Heels' star finds the right touch

Heels' star dialed down power to break out of scoring slump

Staff writerDecember 4, 2009 

North Carolina's Casey Nogueira didn't need to pluck a four-leaf clover from the pitch to break her slump.

Instead, the senior forward for the Tar Heels' women's soccer team just stopped shooting so hard.

The counter-intuitive approach worked just in time for last season's National Player of the Year to regain her scoring touch. Six postseason goals later, including a hat trick last Friday in her team's 5-2 quarterfinal win over Wake Forest, Nogueira and the Tar Heels are back on stride and in College Station, Texas, for the semifinals of the NCAA Women's College Cup.

Two wins away from its 20th NCAA championship, UNC (21-3-1) faces Notre Dame (21-3-1) tonight at 8, and the pressure is off Nogueira.

"At the beginning of the season, I was in kind of a slump," Nogueira said. "Toward the end of the season, I started just not really putting that pressure on myself and just playing."

After tallying 25 goals en route to becoming the ACC Female Athlete of the Year in 2008, Nogueira notched only six through the first 18 games of this season, despite leading the conference in shots.

Her self-imposed decision to relax came just when the Tar Heels' schedule became pressure-packed. Nogueira collected five points in North Carolina's three ACC Tournament games, finishing with two goals in the championship match and earning the tournament's MVP award.

An ACC championship in hand, her production didn't stop there. Through the first four rounds of the NCAA Tournament, she knocked in four goals and assisted on three others. That means that Nogueira's feet have played a part in seven of North Carolina's 11 NCAA Tournament goals.

Focusing more on accuracy and less on blasting every shot has helped her finish strong, UNC coach Anson Dorrance said.

"The thing she likes about shooting is knocking the snot out of the ball," Dorrance said. "She's a much better finisher if she aims, keeps it low, keeps it on frame."

It sounds so simple, but resisting the urge to bang the ball through the defense goes against Nogueira's instincts. However, her ability to slow the game down allows her to remember what she needs to do to be successful.

"[Now] whenever I'm in the box, I hear Anson's voice in my head," Nogueira says.

With the crowds she draws from the opposition, it's amazing she can hear anything at all. Nogueira refuses to say that being marked this season has led to her drop in scoring, but teammate Whitney Engen sees it differently.

"Most teams we play have come into our games saying, 'Our goal is to make sure Casey Nogueira doesn't score today,' " the senior defender said.

UNC faced the Irish earlier this season in a Sept. 4 match in South Bend, Ind. Nogueira had a goal and two assists in UNC's 6-0 regular-season win.

If Nogueira keeps up her scoring, Notre Dame may need more than a bit of their mascot's luck of its namesake to get past her and UNC.

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