Anson's 1K, debuts and home at Finley: Week 1 Women's Soccer Notebook

The North Carolina women’s soccer team got off on the right foot in its first week of play with wins over Illinois and Ohio State. After trailing Illinois 1-0 at halftime on Thursday evening, the Tar Heels exploded for three unanswered goals to win 3-1 against the Illini (1-1). UNC (2-0) maintained its momentum on Sunday afternoon with a solid 2-0 win over No. 23 Ohio State (0-2).

Here’s some of the biggest takeaways from the Tar Heels’ first week:

Anson’s Milestone

With the two wins this week, head coach Anson Dorrance reached 1,000 career wins over his Hall of Fame coaching career. Dorrance won 172 games in 12 seasons as UNC’s men’s soccer coach between 1977 and 1988. He founded the women’s program in 1979 and has since coached every one of the program’s 40 seasons thus far, racking up a record of 828-70-38.

Dorrance’s 828 wins lead all NCAA women’s soccer coaches by a large margin, with UConn’s Len Tsantiris -- the second-winningest coach --trailing by 258 wins after Sunday. Of the 39 women’s soccer NCAA national championships awarded, Dorrance has led the Tar Heels to 22 of them.

Dorrance deftly shrugged aside both a celebratory Gatorade bath from his players and praise for the joint win total. “I’m surprised they didn’t throw in my badminton wins here and (wins from) the intramural department,” he said after the game. “They’ve added some different piles of wins together and it added up to a thousand.”

Fifth-year senior Annie Kingman said the team often dedicates certain games to teammates or coaches and that Sunday’s win over Ohio State was for Dorrance. “Anson is such an awesome coach, but more than just a soccer coach he’s a life coach for all of us and he makes being a part of this program so incredibly special.”

Dorrance, who was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2008, said he appreciated the good press his accomplishment brings to the program, but he didn’t buy him being the inspiration for the team’s success on Sunday. “They don’t have to play for me as long as they’re kicking everyone’s rear end,” he said. “Play for whatever you like, play for the Sun God, I could care less.”

Welcome to the Show

The Tar Heels’ 2018 recruiting class only consisted of five players -- the program’s smallest since 2004 -- but the team’s newest members still made their presence known. Freshman forward Rachael Dorwart scored the first goal of her career with a second-half header on Thursday against Illinois while fellow forward Brianna Pinto opened her career ledger on Sunday against Ohio State.

Dorwart followed up her stellar Thursday debut -- after which Dorrance compared her to Mia Hamm -- with another solid showing on Sunday. Though she didn’t find the net on Sunday, the Pennsylvania product led the Tar Heels’ attack throughout the week, firing a total of 10 shots, with six going on goal.

Pinto scored UNC's first goal on Sunday when she hooked in a free kick from just outside the box in the 37th minute. In total, she tallied three shots on Sunday with just the one making it on goal.

Dorwart and Pinto highlight a recruiting class that, though small, still ranked third in the nation, per Top Drawer Soccer, behind USC and Stanford.  Pinto was ranked No.3 in the 2018 national recruiting rankings and Dorwart came in at No. 8, with forward Rachel Jones and goalie Claudia Dickey at nine and 24, respectively.

A Durham native, Pinto said on Sunday that she grew up dreaming of playing for Dorrance and the Tar Heels. Both her parents went to UNC; her mother Meleata played softball while her father Hassan played soccer -- and was originally recruited by Dorrance while he was still the men’s coach.

Pinto and Dorwart should get plenty of opportunities this season. Each of the past two seasons, the Tar Heels have been led in scoring by a first-year with Bridgette Andrzejewski in 2016 and Alessia Russo last season. (Russo is still competing in the Under-20 World Cup for her native England so she didn’t play in either game this week.)

Left Side, Strong Side

Pinto and left back Emily Fox missed most of UNC’s preseason camp while they competed in the Under-20 World Cup for the United States. The two missed Thursday’s game, but on Sunday they showed a clear connection forged by the summer months together. Aside from Pinto’s first-half goal, Pinto and Fox worked well together throughout the game, sending waves of attack up the Tar Heels’ left side.

The sophomore Fox excelled at left back for the first two months of last season, but she suffered a season-ending knee injury in the Tar Heels’ 4-1 win over Boston College. Despite missing UNC’s final three ACC games and the entire postseason, Fox still earned All-ACC Freshman Team honors for her performance. 

Back from the World Cup, Fox showed she was full strength. She sliced up the left side thanks to runs and quick passing with the midfield, and repeatedly dribbling past Buckeye defenders. "That left side was just electric,” Dorrance said Sunday. “I loved seeing (Fox) as an outside back and then Pinto as the left wing and it was so exciting to just watch them tear down the left side.”

Home Sweet Home

The Tar Heels will be playing all of their home games at Finley Fields until November at the earliest, while the renovations to Fetzer Fields are finalized. The team decided to play at their practice facility on campus instead of playing home games at WakeMed Park in Cary as they did last year. The field doesn’t have bleachers, but fans have been able to set up chairs and blankets right next to the field. Dorrance likened the energy to “a neighborhood, community gathering.”

Next week, UNC will continue to play host at Finley Fields, welcoming Texas at 5 p.m. on Wednesday and Central Florida at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

@BigJ_KMeyer