Fall, Women's Soccer

Bryant’s Fifth-Minute Misfire Haunts Eagles in Loss to No. 3 UNC

For now, the top team in the Atlantic Coast Conference isn’t in question, as the No. 3 North Carolina women’s soccer team hasn’t lost in a regular season conference game since 2016. An insurgent opponent in No. 11 Boston College, however, made it well known that the pecking order could be vulnerable to a shake-up in the postseason. Thursday afternoon’s game between the two was evenly contested, with the Tar Heels holding a slight 5-2 edge in shots on goal, and it fittingly came down to one play in the fifth minute.

Eagles goaltender Alexis Bryant, in the midst of a resurgent fifth-year campaign, attempted to play a goal kick to defender Gianna Mitchell, her nearest teammate. Bryant’s slow, loopy kick was intercepted by UNC’s star forward Alessia Russo, who sprung forward untouched with the ball, dribbled into the box, and scored the eventual game-winning goal past a lunging Bryant. It was the only mistake for a otherwise stout Eagles defense, and it cost the team a narrow 1-0 decision on the road.

It was a brutal moment for Bryant, who angrily pounded the ground after failing to come up with the mistake-redeeming save. It was a hole the Eagles (13-2-1, 5-2-1) could never dig out of, despite a pair of good looks and an inspired second-half push that came up shy. The Tar Heels (13-2-1, 8-0-0) now need just one win in their final two games to clinch the conference title, as BC dropped a game that would’ve given it a chance to play spoiler.

“I thought today was a battle of two of the top teams in the country,” Eagles coach Alison Foley told BCEagles.com after. “We had our chances and we didn’t convert, so this will leave us hungry for the next game.”

Foley’s offense was largely stifled throughout, failing to score a goal for the first time this year. UNC’s control of the ball was prominent in the first half, and although the Eagles managed to play more competitive in the second, they still failed to produce anything past a pair of quality shots.

The first was Olivia Vaughn’s shot in the 18th minute that nearly reset the scoreboard—teammate Sam Coffey slid to knock a ball through a pair of defenders and led Vaughn perfectly. The junior forward loaded up a left-footed shot and fired one high. Tar Heels goaltender Samantha Leshnak managed to get a hand on it, but it kicked off the crossbar and bounced back into play. Gaby Carreiro volleyed it back across the box and Vaughn had another look, but her follow-up effort was denied.

The second was a shot that seemed destined to go in—it was from defender Kayla Duran in her 90th minute of play. BC had been pressing for seven minutes or so, at least since the last Russo shot, and finally had a corner kick. Coffey played the ball in and it kicked out to Duran, who was playing up. Her long-distance shot soared high, though, and the draw, or an overtime period, wasn’t in the cards.

The loss was the Eagles 18th in 19 matches with UNC, a remarkable dominance in a series between two teams. The starring player for the Tar Heels this time around was Russo, who continued her hot streak in conference play with seven shots, three on goal. Containing the elite forward was tough, but outside of her costly mistake, Bryant was able to come up with several key saves, absorbing one particularly fast-paced one from close range, then preventing a breakaway finish.

Winning the conference is largely out of the question, especially with the Tar Heels very close to finishing off yet another undefeated ACC slate. Still, the narrow outcome reflects the growth of the Eagles team from last year, bolstered by breakout performances and key freshman like Duran. UNC rolled to a 4-1 win on BC’s home field last season, but the Eagles were able to make the Chapel Hill faithful a little anxious, a rarity for a team that has lost just two games at home the last four seasons.

Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor

October 19, 2018