Soccer season is back, and with it, the No. 4 UNC women’s soccer team begins the 2014 season Friday night when perennial powerhouse and seventh-ranked Stanford comes to town to take on the Tar Heels in the Carolina Nike Classic at Fetzer Field.
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The No. 22 Carolina men’s team meanwhile will play its final exhibition contest of the preseason at WakeForest Saturday.
The Tar Heel men are coming off a disappointing 9-6-5 campaign in 2013 and check in at No. 22 in the preseason NSCAA Coaches rankings.
The overall team defense is the strong point for this UNC squad, and the Tar Heels will rely heavily on defender Boyd Okwuono in 2014. The senior was named to the Hermann Trophy watch list. The prestigious award goes to the nation’s premier college soccer player.
The reigning ACC Defender of the Year has anchored a Tar Heel defense that has ranked first and sixth over the last two years in goals-against-average in the nation.
Carolina’s men will put the finishing touches on their preseason preparations with a stern test over in Winston-Salem when the Tar Heels take on the No. 11 Demon Deacons Saturday night at 7 p.m.
As for the women, head coach Anson Dorrance‘s team gets its 2014 campaign started Friday night when it meets the Cardinal. That showdown will be broadcast right here on WCHL.
The UNC women finished with a 20-5 mark in 2013, but enter this season with a few holes to fill with six senior starters gone from last season but as usual, the Tar Heels have plenty of talent returning ready to step into starring roles.
Another concern for the Tar Heels came in the form of a 2-1 exhibition loss to Missouri a week ago.
Coach Dorrance says it was a frustrating experience, but there were still some positives to take away.
“I saw absolute chaos, which is certainly going to be typical in the preseason. But I saw some flashes. Me and my staff aren’t entirely disappointed,” Coach Dorrance says.
Some bright spots come in the form of production out of the freshman players. Coach Dorrance says he’s liked what he’s seen out of the newest additions to the nation’s winningest college soccer program.
“We think the freshmen are going to play. It was nice to see [Megan] Buckingham score in the first scrimmage against UNC-Wilmington. And then, to see Alex Kimball score,” Coach Dorrance says.
Despite the defeat, Coach Dorrance says he was pleased with the fight displayed by his young Tar Heels in the preseason.
“What you want to make sure your team is doing is competing. I thought in the second half we did. Missouri pressured us as we knew they would,” Coach Dorrance says.
The Tar Heels aren’t satisfied with where they’re at right now. But the subpar performance against the Tigers might have been aided by injuries and national team obligations, which have kept a couple key playmakers off the Chapel Hill fields to date.
“What we need to do is see if we can play through the lines. And obviously, we can’t yet. Maybe some of the reasons are that Hanna Gardner is out with an injury and Katie Bowen is representing New Zealand,” Coach Dorrance says.
Ultimately, however, Coach Dorrance says he expects his team to grow as the season progresses and eventually be able to challenge the best in the ACC and nation.
“We’re going to improve this season like we did last spring. I think the team we put out there eventually will be a competitive one. I’m not discouraged, I’m just a little disappointed,” Coach Dorrance says.
It’s hard to doubt the legendary coach of the Tar Heels as the first step in their annual quest for a national championship begins Friday night in Chapel Hill.