Aug. 21, 2010

Courtesy Of UNC

COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS - Playing on the same field where it won the 2009 NCAA championship but doing so with a revamped roster, the No. 1 University of North Carolina women's soccer team defeated No. 8 Texas A&M 3-0 Friday night before a crowd of 2,822 at the Aggie Soccer Stadium. Three UNC starting midfielders accounted for the North Carolina scoring and freshman Anna Sieloff became the first Tar Heel goalkeeper to start her career with a shutout since Jenni Branam in 1999.

The last time the Tar Heels played at Aggie Soccer Stadium was last December when they defeated an unbeaten Stanford team 1-0 to win their 21st national championship. But seven starters and 14 letter winners from that team are now gone. UNC knew it would be tested by an A&M team which reached the third round of last year's NCAA Tournament and had 11 players back with starting experience.

It was the younger Carolina team that came out of the chute on fire, however, with UNC's seniors leading the way. Just 2:09 into the match, the Tar Heels lit up the scoreboard as senior Meghan Klingenberg scored on a 30-yard shot from the left side that landed inside the right post past Texas A&M goalkeeper Kristin Arnold. After freshman midfielder Meg Morris won the ball on the right side in the midfield, she fed the ball ahead to senior midfielder Ali Hawkins. Hawkins spotted Klingenberg alone on the left and deftly slid a pass by a slew of defenders to reverse the field of play. Klingenberg took a couple of dribbles and let fly producing a 1-0 Tar Heel lead in the third minute.
 
It didn't take long for UNC to make it 2-0. The Tar Heels earned a corner kick in the 20th minute and senior defender Rachel Givan fed a perfect ball into the middle of the box where Ali Hawkins headed it down and on frame inside the right post to double the Tar Heel lead.

The Aggies had a couple of decent looks with 18 minutes to play in the first half. Alyssa Mautz had a shot clang off the bar at that point and the Aggies also had another good look on the ensuing corner kick but shot it high. Mautz again was high with a shot in the 41st minute as the Aggies finished the half with nine shots but none on frame.

Leading 2-0 at the half the Tar Heels took solid control in the second 45 minutes and produced another goal for separation. Both Alyssa Rich and Courtney Jones had good looks at the goal in the first 10 minutes of the half only to just miss on their chances. A couple of minutes later, the Aggies sent a long ball that took a big bounce inside the 18-yard box but was snared just before it crossed the line by Sieloff. With the two goal lead maintained, the Tar Heels capitalized just two minutes later.

The third goal came off the head of sophomore midfielder Amber Brooks and it was her first career tally. Klingenberg retrieved a contested ball on the right side just on the edge of the penalty area and sent a cross far post where the unmarked Brooks nodded it home past a diving Arnold.

Texas A&M's best chance to score came in the 60th minute when Aggie junior forward Merritt Mathias, who played at Carolina the past two seasons before transferring to A&M, sent a searing shot from the left side just outside the box. It seemed to be a sure goal before Sieloff was able to parry it off the cross bar. The ball caromed off the bar but the Tar Heel defense was able to clear it out of harm's way, preserving the shutout.

Carolina continued to try to add to its lead as a shot by Elizabeth Burchenal was saved by Arnold with 22:47 left and Kealia Ohai almost snuck one past the A&M keeper with 18 minutes to go before Arnold made a diving save. Mathias had one last decent look for the Aggies with 15 minutes to play but it went wide.

UNC finished with an edge in shots 17-15 and corner kicks 8-4. Arnold finished with six saves for A&M while Sieloff had three for Carolina.

Sieloff was the first UNC goalkeeper to start a season opener as a freshman and pitch a shutout since Jenni Branam did it in a 3-0 win over Tennessee on September 1, 1999.

UNC's defense, which included Rachel Givan, sophomore Rachel Wood, freshman Crystal Dunn and sophomore Megan Brigman in the back line, recorded its 28th shutout in the last 38 games for the Heels. UNC has allowed only 14 goals in the last 3,552 minutes and 16 seconds of play dating back to October 30, 2008.

UNC will complete its trip to Texas by playing Michigan State Sunday at Aggie Soccer Stadium at 10:30 a.m. CDT (11:30 a.m. EDT). The Spartans beat St. John's 1-0 in the first game Friday.