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UNC Women’s Soccer: Heels take on #8 Clemson to start crucial stretch

The third-ranked Tar Heels have their eyes on repeating as ACC Regular Season champs

2018 NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Championship Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

It’s been quite the busy season thus far for the North Carolina Women’s Soccer team. Over the last six weeks they have experienced the following:

  • The long-awaited grand opening of their new stadium in Chapel Hill
  • A early-season Sunday night game against archrival Duke in said stadium
  • A West Coast tournament in the Pacific Northwest
  • A bonafide UNC and USWNT legend joining the coaching staff
  • Their living legend head coach having the new soccer field dedicated to him during a home game

In the midst of all that, the Heels have played 11 games and won ten of them, the only loss coming on the road against a plucky Arkansas Razorback squad. The Tar Heels are 3-0 in the ACC and ranked #3 in the country by United Soccer Coaches. Already holding wins over ranked teams in Duke and Louisville, they are in prime position to defend their title as ACC Regular Season champions. But now comes the hard part.

On Saturday, the Tar Heels host the #8 Clemson Tigers, who have been one of the surprise teams of the season thus far. Ed Radwanski’s side is 8-1-1 and is 4-1-1 against ranked teams, their only loss coming to defending champion Florida State (boo and hiss). The Tigers have a solid team that has been bolstered by a freshman class that has performed impressively: Freshman goalkeeper Hannah McLaughlin was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week back in September and frosh forward Maliah Morris was named Offensive Player of the Week. On top of that, the Tigers return veterans like preseason All-ACC Mariana Speckmaier, who has tallied five goals so far this season.

The Tar Heels, per usual, have a deep and talented roster that goes about 20 deep on any given night. They have been dominant defensively, posting nine shutouts in 11 matches, though injuries to their backline left them more vulnerable in mid-September. They have allowed just four goals all season, the defensive load being carried by regulars Lotte Wubben-Moy, Maycee Ball, Lois Joel, and Emily Fox. Veteran Taylor Otto has been sidelined much of the season by injury.

On offense, the three-headed monster of Brianna Pinto, Alessia Russo, and Bridgette Andrzejewski has been feasting just like last year. Pinto leads the team with seven goals and three assists, while Russo (a favorite for the Hermann Trophy in preseason) has six goals. Andrzejewski, who struggled at times with scoring efficiency last season, has four goals and five assists to give her one of her best starts to a season thus far.

In goal, sophomore Claudia Dickey and freshman Marz Josephson have split the minutes, both claiming five wins apiece between the posts. Going forward, it will be interesting to see who Anson Dorrance goes with in the postseason.

After the Tigers, UNC embarks on a key six game stretch to close out the ACC season, including a road rematch against the Blue Devils and big home games against Florida State and Virginia Tech.

The Heels and Tigers kick off tomorrow night at 5:00 pm in Chapel Hill. The game may be viewed on the ACC Network.