North Carolina began the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship with a new look on the field.
It was the same old result, however.
Jessie Scarpa, Megan Buckingham and Alexa Newfield scored second-half goals for injury-depleted North Carolina, and the third-seeded Tar Heels shut out Liberty 3-0 on Friday night at Fetzer Field.
Third-seeded UNC (15-4-1) will play in next Friday’s second round against Texas A&M (16-6-1), which defeated Washington 2-1. The site won’t be determined until after Saturday night’s game between second-seeded Clemson and Furman. Clemson would host if it wins; otherwise, UNC will host the second and third rounds next weekend.
The victory improved the Tar Heels to 18-0 all-time in NCAA first-round games and 121-10-3 overall in the tournament, but this one didn’t come easily.
UNC entered the game short-handed in the midfield with four players having suffered season-ending ACL injuries in the last five weeks. The Tar Heels lost freshman Dorian Bailey and junior Darcy McFarlane last month, and in practice Sunday juniors Joanna Boyles and Cameron Castleberry were injured. Additionally, senior forward Summer Green saw only three minutes of playing time against Liberty (13-8-1), and defenders Maya Worth and Abby Elinsky didn’t play at all.
“This is absolutely the deepest team I had until the injuries,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “Thank goodness we’re this deep. We were running out of players there.”
The Big South champion Flames, despite being outshot 8-1 in the first half, kept it scoreless by halftime and didn’t allow a shot on goal in the half.
However, it took the Tar Heels less than two minutes to get on the scoreboard in the second half. Newfield sent a corner kick into the middle of the penalty area, and Scarpa headed it in from close range for her eighth goal of the season.
“It kind of broke the game open a little bit for them,” Liberty coach Jessica Hain said.
Buckingham, a sophomore midfielder making only her second start of the season, picked up her second goal in the 62nd minute, taking a pass from Scarpa at the top of the penalty area and beating Liberty goalkeeper Holly Van Noord with a high shot from 20 yards.
Newfield made it 3-0 in the 84th minute, finishing from 6 yards for her team-leading 11th goal off passes from Buckingham and Alex Kimball, in her fourth start this year.
Dorrance said it was Buckingham’s best game as a Tar Heel, and she was the ACC freshman of the year last season.
“I was just telling her, it wasn’t by accident,” Dorrance said. “She had a phenomenal week in practice. She playing basically the No. 10 (center midfielder), one of the hardest roles. You have to paint the field and get in behind defenses. She did everything we asked of her. And she scored a cracker of a goal. I can’t wait to get upstairs (to the coaches’ office) and see it again.”
“Basically the only thing going through my mind was keep it on frame or you’ll be embarrassed,” Buckingham said.
UNC dominated statistically, outshooting the Flames 22-3 with an 8-3 advantage in corners. Van Noord made seven saves, while Lindsey Harris made one after relieving starter Bryane Heaberlin in goal for the second half.