A year ago, North Carolina struggled to score goals, managing only 19 in 20 matches despite carving out a 9-6-5 record and reaching the second round of the NCAA men’s tournament.
But following the return to health of redshirt senior forwards Andy Craven and Rob Lovejoy this fall, the Tar Heels are the highest-scoring team in the ACC at 29 goals in 13 games.
With two goals in the 5-0 rout of Virginia Tech last Friday and one in a 4-0 romp over Georgia State on Tuesday, Craven took over the ACC goal-scoring lead with eight, and Lovejoy is tied for second in the conference with six assists. Craven also was named the national player of the week by the NSCAA.
The offense gets a big test at 6 p.m. Friday, however, when the Tar Heels visit archrival N.C. State at Dail Soccer Field. The match will be broadcast online on ESPN3.
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The Tar Heels (9-4, 3-2 ACC) have a score to settle with the Wolfpack (5-4-3, 1-2-2), which beat UNC 1-0 last season in Chapel Hill on an overtime goal by Nazmi Albadawi. UNC, No. 15 in the latest coaches poll, is tied for fourth place in the ACC and also is jockeying for a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Wolfpack meanwhile has a lot of work to do for the postseason, standing 10th among the 12 ACC teams – only 10 qualify for the ACC tournament. Despite a 2-1 upset of then-No. 5 Louisville, the Pack is 110th in the RPI standings nationally. A top-40 position is usually a necessity for an at-large NCAA berth.
UNC-Duke showdown: There’s a big women’s match in the Triangle this weekend, as well. Duke (7-6-1, 3-2-1) hosts No. 6 UNC (9-2-1, 6-0) at 3:30 p.m. Sunday (ESPN3), and the Blue Devils could go a long way toward ensuring postseason play with a victory.
The top four teams make the ACC tournament under the new format, and Duke is tied for fifth place with Clemson. Duke also needs to stay at .500 or better for NCAA tournament consideration. The Tar Heels meanwhile are unbeaten in the league, as is second-ranked Florida State. Those two clash in Chapel Hill on Oct. 23.
UNC, with its least experienced team in 20 years, has offset graduation losses and injuries with its depth. Tellingly, eight of its 19 goals have been scored by substitutes, including two Sunday by sophomore forward Emily Bruder in a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh.
World Cup qualifiers: Three current ACC players have been called to their respective national teams for Women’s World Cup qualifying.
Redshirt sophomore forward Alexa Allen of N.C. State left at halftime Sunday of the Wolfpack’s 6-0 loss at Virginia to join the Jamaica National Team, which begins CONCACAF zone qualifying Thursday night in Kansas City. She could miss up to three matches for the Wolfpack if Jamaica makes it out of Group B to the semifinals. The transfer from Auburn has one goal and three assists this season.
Sophomore midfielder Rebecca Quinn of Duke will report to the Canada National Team next week and miss two matches for the Blue Devils. Quinn, who sat out the last two Duke matches because of an ankle injury, has two goals and two assists this season. Canada doesn’t have to qualify because it is the World Cup host but will play two friendlies against Japan on Oct. 25 and 28.
Virginia senior midfielder Morgan Brian has been called to the U.S. National Team, which began qualifying play Wednesday night against Trinidad and Tobago in Kansas City. She missed the last two matches for the No. 3 Cavaliers and is expected to be away for the next three if the U.S. advances.
Brian, the only current collegian on the U.S. team, is joined by seven ACC alums on the squad: Becky Sauerbrunn of Virginia, and Crystal Dunn, Whitney Engen, Ashlyn Harris, Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg and Heather O’Reilly from UNC.
Injury bug: The injury report for the N.C. State women’s team keeps growing. Nine regulars have missed time this season, and not once has second-year coach Tim Santoro been able to start his top 11 in a game.
Currently four players are not available because of injury – sophomore forward Jackie Stengel (knee), junior defender Michelle Oestreich (ankle), freshman forward Kayla Saager (knee) and sophomore forward Gladys Loyas (knee). Stengel was State’s leading scorer a year ago and a second-team All-ACC preseason pick this year. She has not played this season and could be a candidate for a medical redshirt.
Looking ahead: Besides the UNC-N.C. State men’s match, Duke (5-6-1, 3-3) also has a big game Friday when it hosts No. 11 Notre Dame (7-3-2, 3-1-1), the reigning NCAA champion, at 8 p.m. It’s the middle game of three for Duke in an eight-day span that began with a 2-1 overtime loss to Davidson on Tuesday night and concludes with a road game at Elon next Tuesday. The Blue Devils are firmly on the NCAA bubble but could help their No. 48 RPI with a good result.
The ACC women are idle Thursday, so conference action resumes Sunday. In addition to UNC-Duke, N.C. State (2-10-2, 0-6) travels to Boston College (9-6, 2-4).