In the history of NCAA women's soccer, the Class of 2017 is the only graduated team at UNC that failed to win a national championship - though they were close. The Class of 2018 now faces the potential to join the 2017 group.
In the grand scheme of things, both the 2017 and 2018 classes should be heralded for their successes - which included a run to the College Cup last year - but this is UNC Women's Soccer. It's a dream to play for the esteemed program, which seems to have won more national championships than stars in the sky.
"At this part of the season, everything is about playing for the seniors," Anson Dorrance, UNC's 22-time NCAA champion head coach said. With seven minutes left, Dorrance put all nine seniors on his roster into the game.
While he placed the emphasis on winning for his seniors, Dorrance knows every team they'll face this season is playing with the same motivation, which lead him to the oft-repeated theme: survive and advance.
"We don't care if we advance on penalty kicks," he said. "But it's nice to advance by scoring a couple of goals, it's nice to not have an injury, so we feel really good about all of this. The whole point right now is just to advance."
Senior midfielder Abby Elinsky, who provided UNC's offensive spark Saturday, agreed.
"It's a knockout game, so that's motivating enough for me," she said. "I think we have such potential for our team and I'd hate to see it go to waste."
UNC got off to a solid start Saturday afternoon, downing High Point University, 3-0. On a cold and brisk afternoon at WakeMed Soccer Park, UNC's attack was its best defense, rarely giving an undermatched High Point team to breathe.
In just the sixth minute, Megan Buckingham passed the ball to Elinsky, who found the back of the net from just outside the box, putting the Tar Heels on the board early.
"Her competitive fire is extraordinary," Dorrance said. "I thought [Elinksy], who's basically a defensive wrecking ball, was the offensive catalyst."
The Tar Heel offense never looked back. The Panthers spent nearly the entire game defending, registering zero shots and zero corner kicks. Conversely, the Tar Heels registered 24 shots and 17 corner kicks.
After a corner by sophomore midfielder Kate Morris caused a series of strange tips and weird deflections, junior defender Julia Ashley scored, giving the Tar Heels a 2-0 lead.
Coming out of the halftime gate, High Point played much more aggressively, focused on putting shots on junior goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak. To no avail. Carolina quickly regained control of the game and, after a slew of corner kicks, sophomore midfielder Morgan Goff scored the game's last goal in the 69th minute as Elinsky picked up the assist.
"We have each other's backs constantly and our chemistry is great," Ashley said. "We decided, 'no one's going to get through us.'"
UNC will face the winner of Denver and Colorado on Friday, November 17 at WakeMed Soccer Park.