It has been 697 days since the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Duke Blue Devils have faced off in Women’s Soccer. The last matchup between the two arch rivals came on November 5th, 2017 in the ACC Tournament Final, a game in which the Tar Heels ended Duke 19-game unbeaten streak to become ACC Champions.
In 2018, UNC and Duke saw an early season game cancelled due to inclement weather, and a potential matchup in the ACC Tournament avoided when Duke was knocked off by eventual champion Florida State. UNC made the finals of both the ACC and NCAA Tournament but were beaten both times by the Seminoles. The Tar Heels began the season ranked #2 in the nation behind only, you guessed it, the team from Tallahassee. They have been waiting to handle their unfinished business all year.
The matchup against Duke in Chapel Hill today will provide UNC with its first early test of the season. The Heels won their first game over Indiana by a score of 3-0 on Thursday in a lopsided affair that saw Carolina outshoot the Hoosiers 16-1. Brianna Pinto scored two goals to lead the charge, while Bridgette Andrzejewski added one of her own.
Pinto, a sophomore midfielder, and Andrzejewski, a senior striker, will be part of a strong returning core of attacking talent, led also by Alessia Russo, the reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year. Russo was named first-team All-American last season, the first Tar Heel to be so since World Cup winner Crystal Dunn did so in 2013. A broken leg sidelined her for the NCAA Tournament, though UNC still made the finals without her. With her? They may well be the best attacking team in the country.
Other key players for UNC will be junior midfielder Taylor Otto who, along with Pinto and Russo, was named to the Hermann Trophy watch list in preseason, and sophomore goalkeeper Claudia Dickey, who split up keeping duties last season with Samantha Leshnak. Leshnak, who was eventually named the #1, is now playing for the Carolina Courage, so Dickey will have the full-time starting job in the 2019 season.
Duke meanwhile is coming off a solid 16-4-2 season in 2018, falling in the Round of 16 and start the year off ranked #8 in the country. Robbie Church’s squad will be led by Marykate McGuire and Ella Stevens, their leading assist getters last year, as well as attacker Karlie Paschall and returning goalie Brooke Heinsohn. The ACC has over the last few years become a conference co-ruled by UNC and Florida State and 2017’s Duke team came the closest to disrupting the balance of power. Their goal in 2019 will be to do much the same. They get their chance on Sunday.
The game kicks off at 6:00 pm ET in Chapel Hill.