CHAPEL HILL – Fifth-ranked North Carolina turned in one of its most impressive performances of the season Saturday afternoon as it defeated Big South Conference champion Liberty 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Tournament at Fetzer Field.
With the victory, North Carolina (18-4) will now host NCAA second and third round games at Fetzer Field next Friday and Saturday. Texas Tech and Texas A&M will play in the first game Friday at 3:30 p.m. followed by a matchup between North Carolina and the winner of the Indiana-DePaul first round game at 6 p.m. The winners of Friday’s matches will advance to the NCAA third round next Sunday at 1 p.m. at Fetzer Field.
Offensive heroes were aplenty for Carolina in their win over the Flames (16-6-1) as senior Kealia Ohai scored a pair of goals and senior Megan Brigman and sophomore Summer Green each recorded two assists. Paige Nielsen came off the bench to add a goal and an assist for the Tar Heels and Cameron Castleberry added her second goal of the season to finish off the scoring.
The Tar Heel defense clamped down from the start and never gave the Flames a great look at goal. UNC outshot Liberty 23-3 and had a 6-1 edge in corner kicks. UNC senior Anna Sieloff made her first career NCAA Tournament game start and posted a clean sheet, being forced to make only one save. It was Sieloff’s second solo shutout of the season. Holly Van Noord made eight saves for the Flames. Carolina placed 12 of their 23 shots on goal and matched its season high for goals scored in a game (also scored four goals VCU and Miami).
Ohai recorded the sixth multi-goal game of her career as she scored the first two goals of the game. It was her second multi-goal game this season. She also scored twice versus VCU. Her two goals pushed her career goal total to 39 and her career point total to 104.
Summer Green had a pair of assists for the Tar Heels in the match. The last time she had multiple assists in a game was against Illinois on November 16, 2012. Senior defender Megan Brigman had the first multi-assist game of her career with two, both coming on throw-ins. She now leads Carolina with seven assists this season. Sophomore Paige Nielsen had a goal and an assist as she celebrated the first multi-point game of her Tar Heel career.
After a sluggish first few minutes, UNC notched the only goal it would need all day in the 15th minute. Summer Green picked the pocket of a Liberty defender 25 yards from goal, dribbled to the top of the box and sent a perfect ball to the onrushing Ohai in the right side of the box. The senior forward from Draper, Utah was clinical with her finish from 10 yards for her ninth goal of the season at 14:56.
After outshooting the Flames 9-2 in the opening half of play, the Tar Heel depth really took over in the second half as 21 UNC players saw time in the period and UNC kept the ball on its offensive end virtually the whole way. Carolina broke the game open on Ohai’s second goal of the match at 50:05. With her back to the goal, she took a throw-in from Megan Brigman on the left side, turned and beat her defender and then powered a shot from 15 yards past Van Noord for her 10th goal of the campaign.
UNC made it 3-0 at 67:28 when Paige Nielsen scored on a header into the left side panel. Satara Murray set up the play with a deep run into the box on the right side. Murray centered the ball across the penalty area where Green blasted a shot from 15 yards that Van Noord knocked down but could not corral. Nielsen was Johnny-on-the-spot to put the header away for a 3-0 lead. It was her fifth goal of the season and her first since she scored the game-winner at Pittsburgh on September 26.
The Tar Heels then capped the scoring on a brilliant goal by freshman Cameron Castleberry at 81:05. Brigman set up the goal with another throw-in from the left side. Nielsen took the throw-in and fed it across the top of the 18-yard box where Castleberry ran on to it and beat the goalkeeper one-on-one into the lower right side of the frame. It was Castleberry’s second goal of the year, the first being the game-winner against Duke on Halloween night.
The Tar Heels outshot the Flames 14-1 in the second half of the game and notched three goals in a half of play for the first time since scoring thrice against Miami in the second half of a 4-0 win in Coral Gables on September 22.
In addition to Sieloff, North Carolina’s defense of Hanna Gardner, Katie Bowen, Satara Murray and Megan Brigman was stellar in its performance, limiting Liberty to three shot attempts and notching the 13th shutout of the season in 22 matches.