While attention on UNC’s campus has been directed towards the football team and its first 4-0 start in decades, the gridiron isn’t the only place where the Tar Heels have been excelling this fall. Across Stadium Drive on Dorrance Field, both the UNC men’s and women’s squads are well into their seasons and have yet to lose a game — the men are 4-0-3 and the women, ranked #1 in the country, are 7-0-4. Both teams also just underwent one of their toughest tests of the season so far, so it seems as good a time as any to provide y’all with a recap of what the squads have been up to and maybe a guide on how to get into them if you haven’t been following thus far.
It may come as no surprise to you that Anson Dorrance once again has a top-notch squad on his hands, on the heel of a season where he took the Tar Heels all the way to the College Cup finals before they suffered an absolutely heartbreaking loss to UCLA. The Heels started this season as the #2-ranked team in the country and, after preseason #1 UCLA lost a game and their #1 ranking to BYU and then BYU lost to unranked Utah State, the Heels’ steady performance through a tough early schedule has earned them a unanimous #1 ranking in the United Soccer Coaches poll at the time of writing. How tough, you might ask? Here’s a look based on current rankings: After opening their season with a scoreless tie against #4 Penn State, the Heels had a healthy out-of-conference slate including #15 Southern California (4-0 win), #7 Arkansas (3-1 win), #15 South Carolina (2-1 win), #9 Alabama (1-1 tie). Now that ACC play has started, they’ve faced Virginia, who was ranked #22 when they played, but have dropped out of the rankings following their 1-0 loss to UNC, and #2 Florida State, who they played to a 3-3 draw in one of the most exciting games of the early season so far, culminating in a literal last-second goal by the ‘Noles. You could maybe point out that most of those games, which is to say all but South Carolina, Alabama, and Virginia, were played at home, but coming out of that gauntlet undefeated—let alone with 4 wins—is seriously impressive.
The Heels are led by forward Ally Sentnor, who broke out last year as a redshirt first-year on her way to a 22-point season (in college soccer, a player gets 2 points per goal and 1 per assist) that netted her an All-ACC First Team selection and a College Cup All-Tournament Team selection. This year, Sentnor’s got 11 points in 11 games (there are 18 games in the regular season; last year’s Heels played 25 total), including a team-leading 4 goals. Sentnor is a fun player to watch; she well outpaces her teammates in shot attempts because of the way she absolutely peppers the opposing goal. She’s not always on frame, but she changes games just by always being a threat to score. She’s also a slick playmaker, tying for the team lead with 3 assists as well. Last year’s goal leader Avery Patterson is also off to a fine start to the season, with 4 goals of her own. Patterson, who scored both goals in last year’s College Cup final, has been quieter the past few games, but can be counted on to turn it up when her team needs it. The Heels continue ACC play this Saturday at N.C. State before returning home for a date with Miami on October 5th. They’ll only leave the state of North Carolina once the rest of the season, which is great both for them and for anybody reading who might want to catch a game. Here are the highlights from their draw with Florida State — check out Sentnor’s service on the last UNC goal.
While the women started the season as among the country’s title favorites, UNC men’s soccer started from, well, if not the bottom, certainly further down. Last year’s first-round exit from the College Cup didn’t do them any favors, and they started shaky, with a season-opening 1-1 tie against Loyola (Md.) and an uncomfortable road win at East Tennessee State where the 2-1 final score didn’t really reflect the run of play. Since then, though, they’ve found their groove, beating teams they’re supposed to and looking like they belong against their strongest competition. This past week, they really looked like a team hitting its stride. Last Tuesday, they thumped UNC Wilmington 3-0, and then, in maybe UNC’s biggest test yet, beat then-11th ranked Duke 2-1 on Sunday with their best-played game of the season. Last week, the Heels didn’t even get votes in the US Coaches’ poll. This week, with a record of 4-0-3, they’re ranked 18th. They have tough tests ahead against teams like #10 Wake Forest, #7 Syracuse, and #8 Louisville, which should all be fun to watch in the coming weeks.
The Heels have been powered by a historically good start to the season from grad transfer forward Quenzi Herman, who came to UNC after earning All-Big East First Team honors at Seton Hall last year. Herman has 6 goals and 3 assists through 7 games, and his 15 points are the most through that amount of games that UNC’s seen this side of the year 2000. He’s joined in the attacking third by fellow grad transfer Martin Vician, who scored twice against UNCW and has 4 goals and an assist on the season after coming to Chapel Hill from Harvard. Between the two of them, they have 10 of UNC’s 14 goals and have displayed remarkable firepower. That’s not to say UNC’s a two-man team, as the defense has been rock-solid, not having allowed more than a goal in a game so far this season and limiting opponents to 67 shots to their own offense’s 110. The UNC keeping has been a bit of an adventure: three different goalies have started games for the Heels, and the two veterans — Quinn Closson and Collin Travasos — have been shaky, with save percentages of only 0.667 (albeit on small samples). Freshman Andrew Cordes drew the start against Duke and sealed the game down the stretch, with three late saves as Duke tried to capitalize on playing a man up for the last 20 minutes, so maybe the Heels have found something there. Check out highlights from that Duke game here, and try not to replay Andrew Czech’s remarkable equalizing strike too much.