Perhaps it was appropriate that DU wore black uniforms to end its 2021 season on a funereal note, as the Pioneers learned first hand that there is a reason that the University of North Carolina Tar Heels have won more than half of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championships ever awarded (21 of the 38!).
That reason is talent.
The National #2-seeded Tar Heels (17-2-0) used their superior recruited speed and skill level to comfortably dump the 22nd-ranked Denver Pioneers, in a 2-0 shut-out in the NCAA Second Round match at the Matthews (N.C.) Sportsplex in suburban Charlotte on the sunny afternoon of April 30, ending the Pioneers’ 2021 proud season with tears.
Denver (17-3-1), who had won its first round NCAA game against Loyola of Chicago 3-1, on April 27, looked game for a time, especially in the middle of the first half when it created its only real offense of the day, but simply did not have the horses to hang with Carolina (16-1-0). The Pios could only manage just two shots on goal on the day (both coming in the middle of the first half), finishing its Summit League Championship season with their collective heads held high.
North Carolina had about 75% of the possession on this day and was surgical and experienced in the midfield, carving Denver’s left side with speed, skill and precision, forcing Denver to chase the faster Tar Heels for much of the afternoon. When DU pushed back with some physicality in the middle sections of the game, UNC punished Denver’s two biggest mistakes, following the Pioneers’ two yellow card fouls with Carolina goals.
The turning point in the game came in the final minutes of the first half, when DU defender Jordan Crockett made an ill-advised tackle from the rear on a UNC forward that resulted in a yellow card. UNC’s ensuing free kick by Paige Tolentino from 40 yards found the head of versatile UNC supersub Rachael Dorwart near the DU end line next to the goal. The ball bouced high in the air off Dorwart’s head into the DU box, only to fall onto the surging forehead of a charging Tar Heel forward Abbey Allen, who bashed that header past a jumping DU keeper Nerea Arrazola for the eventual game-winner in the 41st minute.
UNC’s Dorwart would strike again in the second half, seven seconds after another DU yellow card foul on Taylor Wells, which had forced a Carolina free kick from midfield into the DU goal box. Dorwart then poked the bouncing free-kicked ball out of midair into the roof of the DU net past Arrazola for the Heels’ insurance goal in the 70th minute.
After that point, DU had little left in the tank, seeming to tire in the Carolina sun, managing only its second corner kick of the day with three minutes to go, but nothing really came of it. Carolina had run waves of substitutions during the game, which certainly helped to wear down the Pioneers, who did not have the same level of depth, especially in the midfield.
The Pioneers had their best chances of the day in the middle of the first half between the 19th and 26th minutes, when Meg Halverson and Natalie Beckman had DU’s only two shots on goal for the afternoon. Beckman’s curling shot toward the bottom right corner was the better of the two efforts, but it was saved by UNC’s Claudia Dickey.
DU was outshot 17-6 overall on the day by UNC, with 12 of those 17 coming in the second half and the Heels had eight of the game’s 10 corner kicks.
With the victory over Denver, the Tar Heels advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament and will play the winner of Saint Louis and Washington on May 5 at Wake Med Park in Cary, N.C.