The Wake Forest Demon Deacons women’s soccer team (9-3-2, 3-3 ACC) had another week with mixed results, keeping them at .500 in conference. The Deacs’ first game of the week was a Thursday night trip to Durham, where the No. 12 Duke Blue Devils (10-3, 5-1 ACC) scored a pair of early goals and survived a spirited Wake response to earn a 2-1 victory against the Deacs. Wake responded to the defeat well, though, returning to Spry for a Sunday matinee against Miami (4-6-2, 1-5 ACC) that they would dominate, earning a 2-0 result that was ultimately flattering to the Hurricanes. The Deacs are now faced with four critical games in the conference that will determine their conference and, likely, tournament fates. Three of these games will be on the road, and two of those will be against ranked opponents, the first of which will come tonight in Chapel Hill, where the Deacs will face the No. 2 North Carolina Tar Heels (11-3, 4-2 ACC). But before looking ahead at that game, let’s take a look back at this past week’s happenings.
In the first game of the week, the Deacs had a chance to make a big splash nationally against then No. 7 Duke. Wake got off to a bad start, though, as in the 3rd minute Maggie Graham found a cutting ball through the Wake backline on the left flank to Olivia Migli, who sent it across to freshman Kat Rader. Rader took a touch and tapped it into the back of the net to give the Blue Devils an early lead. It was Rader’s sixth goal of the season, and the seventh wasn’t far behind. In the 13th minute, Michelle Cooper got hold of a second ball from a goal kick, sending it over the top to Rader that Kristin Johnson seemed to have covered, but she was stripped by Rader, who would stride into the area and put the ball past Kaitlyn Parks to double Duke’s lead. This game felt much like the game the two sides played at Spry last season, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the Blue Devils after two goals in the first 22 minutes. However, the Deacs did respond. Wake began to grow into the game after the second goal, weathering Duke’s pressure after struggling against it early. In the 27th minute, the Deacs cut their deficit in half through Giovanna DeMarco, who won the ball from a poor pass by Duke keeper Ruthie Jones, stride into the Duke penalty area, and strike it past Jones at the near post. Wake seemed to have the better of the play for the remainder of the first half, but the two teams would go into the break with the Blue Devils still up a goal.
Coming out of the break, the Deacs had all of the momentum, and looked primed to even the game up. However, Duke would weather the storm and settle in a bit, keeping the Deacs at bay and getting some chances going forward themselves. A solid defensive performance in the second half, bolstered by a pair of beautiful saves from Jones on Emily Morris, buoyed the Blue Devils and earned them another victory in conference. As for the Deacs, they fell to 2-3 in conference and 8-3-2 overall. The Deacs had a spirited response after the early goals, and Emily Morris is definitely deserving of recognition for an incredible performance, but the player of the game in this one for me was Kat Rader, who scored a brace and was a nuisance all game. With the result, the Deacs moved to 0-2 against teams currently in the United Soccer Coaches poll, and were in definite need of a win on Sunday.
The Deacs got the result they needed, and in dominant fashion, on Sunday against Miami. Wake peppered the ‘Canes goal early, and their backline and press were very effective at keeping Miami in check. In the 32nd minute, the Deacs opened the scoring, as Taryn Chance would be sent through down the left flank by Kristin Johsnon and would then send it into the box. Liv Stowell would stick out a boot and get there ahead of Miami keeper Melissa Dagenais, scoring her fifth goal of the year. Wake continued to dominate the game heading into the break, but they couldn’t quite find a goal despite a wealth of chances. When the halftime buzzer sounded, the Deacs went into the locker room up one.
The second half followed much of the same script as the first half had, with Wake dominating proceedings and Miami being entirely unable to respond. The Hurricanes were able to stick around due to the Deacs’ inability to finish their chances, though, as Wake still couldn’t find a second goal in the first 25 minutes of the half. Finally, they would put the game to bed in the 72nd minute, when a Kristin Johnson ball into the area would be tipped into the six-yard box by Giovanna DeMarco and put into the back of the net by freshman Alex Wood. It was Wood’s fifth goal in her maiden campaign, and it all but sealed the result for Wake here. The Deacs were able to rotate some players in during the final 18 minutes, and these players would see out the result, earning a 2-0 win. The stats showed this to be a thorough win for the Deacs, who registered 28 shots in the game and held Miami without a shot for the full 90 minutes. There were a slew of excellent performances from the Deacs in this one, but for me Kristin Johnson was the player of the game here, registering two assists and putting in a great defensive performance in a game that Wake needed.
Coach da Luz spoke after the game about how pleased he was with the team’s performance: “I thought we were dominant from the whistle. I thought we had a really good start offensively. We pressed them immediately, winning the ball back really quickly. I thought our passing and our spacing was really good today. We created a lot of good chances. We needed to be a little bit more clinical in the box, but we got three points and another shut out. So, I’m really happy with the performance.”
He was also pleased to see the team rebound from their tough result on Thursday: “I thought our response against Duke after going down early was really good and showed a lot of character. This team has a short memory, and they just get back to work. We had a couple good days of training and got back to work after the Duke game, nobody sulking. And today was a really good Sunday game for us. It’s tough to play Sunday at one, and our movement was good and we were really sharp with the ball. So I’m really happy with the team’s attitude.”
It was a bounceback performance for Wake’s backline, who da Luz heaped praise on: “They defended with their brain tonight. Against Duke, we were not smart in defending that first 12 minutes. And today they really used their brain and cut off angles, they let balls run instead of hitting them, kept possession, and half the battle is just keeping the ball. They were really sharp today. A lot of communication. [Sophie] Faircloth coming back into it was really good again, giving us a lot in the attack. So it’s a good sign.”
Finally, I asked Coach da Luz about the Deacs’ position in the ACC right now: “I mean 3-3 in our league is pretty good. At this point in the season, we want to finish in the top half, maybe if we can go on a run here, we can beat some good teams. The teams we’re playing in the next four games are all really good. So we have to prove ourselves and close this ACC season out. It’s the body of work over 10 games. So we want to be in a good position at the end of the 10.”
I was also able to speak with Liv Stowell, who had the winning goal in this game, who went into detail about the moment she scored it: “Well Tarynwas running down the side and I had full confidence that she could get the ball into the box, and Tony [da Luz] loves front post runs, So I just thought my effort would be to sprint there and make something happen. She ended up getting the cross off and I just tapped in with my foot.” Stowell also spoke about her role in this team primarily as a goalscorer: “I’m really grateful to get the opportunity to be on the field and be able to get those chances. I think this year is my time to step up to my level and to finish the goals and help the team win.”
Finally, Stowell also spoke about the Deacs’ huge clash with UNC tonight: “I’m really excited about this win, really. I think we start having confidence going into UNC on Friday, and I think we need to be confident cause they’re a beatable team and we just need to keep our heads up. If we play like we play today, I think we can get a result.”
As Stowell and da Luz alluded to, the Deacs are entering the toughest and most critical part of their schedule. In their final four games, the Deacs play three teams in the top 15 of the rankings, and two of these matchups are on the road. The first of these two is in Chapel Hill tonight, where the Deacs will go to Dorrance Field for a clash with the No. 2 Tar Heels. UNC are having a fairly typical year for their standards, posting an 11-3 record with a 4-2 record against currently ranked opponents. They also hold a 4-2 mark in the conference, with their only losses coming to the No. 13 UVA and Virginia Tech. The Heels have once again put themselves in poll position to compete for the national title, which they have done almost every year under legendary head coach Anson Dorrance. Dorrance is likely the greatest collegiate coach of all time in any sport, posting a record of 912-84-45 and picking up 21 NCAA Championships, 1 AIAW title, and 22 ACC championships in his 44 years as head coach in Chapel Hill. More relevant to tonight’s game, though, is his all time record against Wake, which is a staggering 33-2-2. The Deacs have been dominated by UNC historically, and haven’t defeated the Tar Heels since 2012 in a game that capped the Deacs’ longest unbeaten streak in the series, as they went 1-0-2 against Carolina from 2010-2012 during likely the greatest stretch in program history. This game was also the only victory the Deacs have ever earned in Chapel Hill, with Carolina holding a 20-1-1 record over Wake in games they’ve hosted. It will be a huge challenge for the Deacs to overcome tonight, but a win in this game would be huge for their NCAA Tournament chances, and would give them the opportunity to once again qualify for the ACC Tournament.
Kickoff for tonight’s game is set for 7:00.