Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Anson Dorrance owns 799 victories as a college women’s soccer coach, and it’s possible that he can get to No. 800 this weekend, if Hurricane Matthew doesn’t intervene.
The 15th-ranked Tar Heels (7-2-3, 2-1-2 ACC) beat Miami 3-1 Thursday and will host Wake Forest at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Heading into both games, the Tar Heels were favored to win.
Although Miami (8-5, 3-2) has been one of the surprises in the ACC so far, UNC now seems to be hitting its stride after some early-season soul searching.
After a decisive 3-0 shutout of Virginia Tech two weeks ago, the Tar Heels went on the road to two of the toughest venues in the ACC, Clemson and Virginia, and came away with 1-1 ties.
Those results might pale in comparison with UNC’s historic domination of the series against the Tigers (29-1-1) and Cavaliers (35-4-4), but make no mistake, UNC was happy to get them – especially when you consider that No. 12 Clemson and No. 8 Virginia are both ranked higher than the Tar Heels at present.
What’s turned the Tar Heels around?
It’s equal parts freshmen growing into their roles on offense, a settled defense anchored by senior goalkeeper Lindsey Harris, and one key position change.
Freshman forwards Madison Schultz, Bridgette Andrzejewski, and Morgan Goff have rotated in the front line, especially since fellow freshman Zoe Redei went down with an injury against Virginia Tech.
After weeks of tinkering, Dorrance has settled on his preferred 3-4-3 alignment that features a defensive grouping of outside backs Hanna Gardner and Julia Ashley with center back Maggie Bill.
And shifting sophomore Maya Worth from outside back, where she started last year, to forward has paid dividends.
Worth, a tenacious defender, has started the last three matches at forward and helped set the tone for UNC’s high pressure by challenging opposing backs and midfielders for possession.
The Tar Heels aren’t out of the woods yet.
After this week they go on the road for three in a row, including a date at No. 20 Notre Dame, before a regular-season finale when they host No. 2 Florida State.
But they should qualify for the eight-team ACC tournament, and that wasn’t a given two weeks ago.
It also means No. 800 might be the precursor for another landmark victory.
Dorrance, 799-65-35 as the women’s coach, also logged a 172-65-21 record as the UNC men’s coach from 1977-88.
Combining those ledgers gives him 971 college victories, and suddenly 1,000 doesn’t seem quite so far away.
Halfway through the regular-season schedule in the ACC, only two men’s teams remain undefeated in the conference standings.
UNC and Louisville are each 3-0-1 in the league, and as they won’t meet during the regular season, it’s possible that both teams could stay unbeaten.
However, with six teams ranked among the nation’s top 11 this week and four teams on one conference loss apiece, the ACC is still a horse race.
Key games on Friday have No. 3 Syracuse at No. 8 Louisville, and No. 2 Notre Dame hosting No. 11 Wake Forest.
Locally, No. 3 UNC hosts Virginia, Duke visits No. 18 Virginia Tech, and N.C. State travels to No. 5 Clemson.
The Wolfpack’s game is scheduled for Saturday.
Last Friday, Syracuse and UNC didn’t settle much when they played to a 0-0 double-overtime tie at Syracuse.
UNC redshirt sophomore goalkeeper James Pyle shared the ACC defensive player of the week award with two other goalkeepers, who shut out ranked teams, UVa’s Jeff Caldwell and Clemson’s Ximo Miralles.
Pyle later extended his scoreless streak to 359 minutes, 58 seconds with a 1-0 shutout of No. 20 UNC Wilmington on Tuesday night.
Duke rediscovers offense
What was wrong with Duke’s offense?
Apparently, not much.
The Blue Devils ran into a hot goalkeeper in Louisville’s Taylor Bucklin, but since that 0-0 tie on Sept. 22, Duke’s women have erupted for 4-0 victories over Virginia Tech and Syracuse.
Freshman Ella Stevens, who has taken over at forward since sophomore Kayla McCoy suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear, compiled three goals in the two wins.
Veterans Imani Dorsey and Toni Payne had a brace apiece.
Besides McCoy, senior midfielder Rebecca Quinn and sophomore midfielder Taylor Racioppi, both starters, sat out with injuries.
Quinn has missed the last three matches with a turf toe.
Wootten honored again
N.C. State goalkeeper Sydney Wootten was named the ACC women’s defensive player of the week after recording seven saves in a 1-0 win at Boston College last Sunday.
It was the second time that Wootten has won the honor.
She owns a 0.77 goals against average, seventh-best in the ACC, and 42 saves, sixth-best.
She has five shutouts on the season and has allowed only three goals in the past 785 minutes for the Wolfpack (9-3-1, 3-1-1 ACC), which played to a draw at Louisville (7-3-3, 2-1-2) on Thursday night, and hosts No. 9 Duke (8-2-2, 3-0-1) on Sunday night.
Wolfpack loses Taiwo
If N.C. State is going to rebound during the second half of the ACC season, the Wolfpack will have to do it without redshirt sophomore forward Ade Taiwo.
The former Cardinal Gibbons player recently suffered his third anterior cruciate ligament injury and is done for the season.
“I really feel bad for Ade,” State coach Kelly Findley said after the Wolfpack’s 2-1 to Duke last Friday.
“It’s tough to do your ACL once, much less twice, but three times … And he’s a great kid and wants N.C. State to be successful. So we’re just going to have to manage it without him.”
Taiwo was injured in a 3-0 loss at Virginia Tech on Sept. 16 on a non-contact play.
He had scored three goals this season, including two in a 3-2 loss to North Florida on Sept. 4.
Taiwo saw his freshman season cut short after five games because of a torn ACL.
Sophomore Tanner Roberts, who scored against Duke, has taken over the starting forward role in State’s 4-5-1 alignment, with sophomore Clayton Sparks seeing major minutes off the bench.
Each has two goals and an assist on the season.
ACC tournament set
The ACC announced Tuesday that sites have been selected for eight championships that were moved out of North Carolina in the fallout from HB2.
As a result, the ACC women’s soccer semifinals and final will be played Nov. 4-6 at MUSC Health Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
The 5,100-seat stadium is the home of the Charleston Battery of the United Soccer League and also will host the ACC men’s championship game on Nov. 13.
Preliminary rounds in both tournaments will be played at campus sites.
The men’s final was originally scheduled for Charleston.
This will be the second time the ACC women’s soccer tournament will be held in South Carolina.
Clemson hosted the event in 1996.
The women’s tournament was ticketed for Cary’s WakeMed Soccer Park before the ACC announced on Sept. 14 that it would move 10 championships, including football, out of state.
The NCAA Women’s College Cup, the sport’s Final Four, also was supposed to be played at WakeMed, but the NCAA pulled the plug on that event two days before the ACC followed suit.
The NCAA has yet to announce a new venue.
Ebobisse gets call
Former Duke player Jeremy Ebobisse has been called to the U.S. U-20 men’s national team for the Four Nations Tournament this week in England.
The U.S. team, which is coached by Hall of Famer Tab Ramos, the former N.C. State standout, began play Wednesday against Germany in Leigh.
The U.S. also will play the Netherlands on Friday in Manchester and the host team England on Monday in Rochdale.
The tournament is preparation for next year’s U-20 World Cup in South Korea.
Germany and England have already qualified for the World Cup, scheduled for May 20-June 11.
The U.S. will try to qualify through the regional tournament at Costa Rica in February and March.
Ebobisse, from Bethesda, Md., left Duke just before the Fall semester and played in the final five games of the USL regular season for the Charleston Battery, scoring a goal and an assist.
The USL playoffs began last weekend.
Ebobisse totaled nine goals and seven assists in his Duke career and would have played a prominent role on the team had he returned this fall.
Freshman defender Miles Robinson of Syracuse is one of three collegiate players on the mostly European-based U.S. team and the only other player with ACC ties.
He will miss two matches for the third-ranked Orange in the interim, including a key ACC showdown Friday at No. 8 Louisville.
Harris wins honor
Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, a 2010 UNC grad, was voted the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Goalkeeper of the Year this week.
Harris, 30, recorded 62 saves, a 1.33 goals-against average, and four shutouts in 15 games for the Pride, which selected the Florida native with the second pick of the NWSL expansion draft.
Her honor came despite a 5-9-1 record with the expansion Pride as she became the first player from an expansion team to win a league award.
She has been a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team since 2013.