The Daily Gamecock

Analysis: Women's soccer upsets No. 2 UNC in opening round of NCAA tournament

<p>Gamecock graduate forward Luciana Zullo keeps the ball in bounds after receiving a pass from a teammate during the game against Tennessee Oct. 10, 2021.</p>
Gamecock graduate forward Luciana Zullo keeps the ball in bounds after receiving a pass from a teammate during the game against Tennessee Oct. 10, 2021.

A defensive masterclass helped the South Carolina women’s soccer team defeat the No. 2 seed North Carolina Tar Heels 1-0 in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. 

Heading into the game, North Carolina was 39-0 in the first round of NCAA tournaments. Thanks to a gritty defensive performance from the Gamecocks, the Tar Heels are now 39-1. 

“I think they did great. Every one of them committed to their defensive job. That’s what you have to do,” Head coach Shelley Smith said.

This meeting marked the third time these teams met in the NCAA tournament. South Carolina won at Chapel-Hill in 2014, and the Tar Heels won the most recent meeting in Columbia in 2016.

The game was scoreless in the first half. Both teams had multiple opportunities at the goal but were unable to convert. 

“I think we had good opportunities all match, and so did Carolina. They hit the post at one time and that's what it comes down to,” Smith said.

15 minutes in, sophomore forward Catherine Barry made a quick move to shake the defender and got a clean look. However, the UNC goalie made the save.

Disaster almost struck when South Carolina almost scored on itself twice. Luckily for the team, junior goalkeeper Heather Hinz stopped the ball before it could roll in the net. 

“Heather had a tremendous day in goal,” Smith said. “She did what she needed to do to save things,”

The second half was very physical. Within the first 10 minutes, both teams had combined to commit seven fouls. There were 13 total fouls called in the half. 

The Tar Heels controlled the ball for a significant amount of the game. They kept the ball on their side of the field and cleared it if it crossed the midfield line. 

The Gamecock defense did not succumb to this pressure. It locked in and broke up any UNC attempt at a goal, holding the Tar Heels to three shots on goal for the game. 

80 minutes in, the game continued to be a physical, hard-fought, scoreless match that seemed destined for overtime. One minute later, South Carolina’s graduate student midfielder Lauren Chang passed the ball upfield to graduate student forward Luciana Zullo, who found the back of the net. 

“I just remember Chang playing it over, I took a touch to my left foot and just slotted it in the bottom right corner,” Zullo said. “It felt the right way and I’m just so happy that I could capitalize off of that for my team.”

South Carolina played with the lead the rest of the way. 

“Again, really proud of the players to stick with it and to survive towards the end there, when they really put a lot of pressure on us and we just stuck together,” Smith said.

North Carolina failed to score the tying goal, allowing the Gamecocks to move on to the round of 32 where they will play Hofstra on Friday.