The NC State women’s soccer team knocked off the No. 3 North Carolina Tar Heels in a thrilling 1-0 victory at home on Saturday, Oct. 16. Freshman goalkeeper Maria Echezarreta notched a career-high eight saves to secure the Pack’s first win against the Tar Heels since 2016 and the first at home since 2002.
“We're a young team so for most of [the NC State players], they have never played against UNC,” said head coach Tim Santoro. “So it was a big moment for them. [UNC women’s soccer] is the most successful athletic program, any sport, any gender, in college sports, so anytime you beat them it's good.”
For a Wolfpack squad that lost a lot of narrow games earlier in the season, this recent reversal of form is promising with the postseason quickly approaching. Now increasing its win streak to three, all coming from wins over ACC teams, the team has been able to build momentum in time for a postseason run.
“It was frustrating because we were losing games that we were as good as the teams we were playing and games that were close,” Santoro said. “They were even and you’re worried about their psyche and they just kept at it. It’s not just a streak we’re on now, but Duke and Carolina, that's two good wins. I think they are two of the best teams in the country. ”
The match was truly a special performance for the Pack as it went toe-to-toe with UNC. The tension-filled game went down to the last second as after the Pack’s first-half goal; its daunting defense was able to hang on against an unyielding attack from Chapel Hill. Multiple nail-biting chances were denied by the Pack defense while its scrappy offensive counterpart, led by sophomore forward Jameese Joseph, was able to capitalize on opportunities and put State in position to win.
The offenses started to find its footing around the 19th minute. A pair of shots by Talia Dellaperuta failed to put the Heels ahead and a shot on the counterattack by freshman midfielder Annika Wohner missed left. A few minutes later, freshman defender Brianna Weber took the Pack’s first shot on goal and forced UNC keeper Claudia Dickey to make her first save of the match.
Echezarreta made several saves of her own. As the Tar Heels ramped up the pressure in the second half, the Spaniard stepped time and time again to keep her squad in front.
In the second half, Chapel Hill did not relent on offense. For a large majority of the half it kept up a consistent and dangerous offensive attack adding 13 more shots, totaling a whopping 24 shots by the end of the night. However, the Heels hit a wall in the Pack’s unrelenting defense that was tough and physical, resulting in a dominant defensive performance that successfully shut down the No. 3-ranked team in the nation.
“‘Thank you,’ that's all I have to say to [my defense],” Echezarreta said. “They worked their asses. They did their best every single ball. They were fighting for our team out there. We are a family and that's a win, that's how we show it.”
Once the offenses got into full swing, Joseph scored the first and only goal of the game in the 26th minute. A breakaway run by Wohner instigated by a Tar Heel defender coughing up a loose ball culminated in the German dishing a pass to Joseph directly in front of the goal, and Dickey had no chance to stop Joseph from giving the Wolfpack an early lead.
“Anni, she had a great steal,” Joseph said. “She did an unselfish thing. Instead of shooting, to just play me [into] a one-on-one with the keeper and I just slotted it into the corner.”
Recently Joseph has been in excellent form, as the opening goal constituted her third consecutive scoring match, including a game-winner at then-No. 4 Duke.
A large part of Joseph’s recent success is tied to her prowess on the ball. She has speed and power in spades and she’s not afraid to utilize it, as she showed several times over the course of the match. With her teammates aiding in the effort, the Pack is starting to heat up down the home stretch.
NC State will head to Winston-Salem to face off against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Thursday, Oct. 21. The match will be aired on ACC Network Extra at 7 p.m.