[WOMEN'S PREVIEW] For North Carolina faithful, the positive side to the Tar Heels' 1-0 loss to Florida State in the ACC quarterfinals -- its first loss ever in the ACC championship and third straight defeat, another first -- is that they got an extra week to prepare for the NCAA Tournament, which begins Saturday against William & Mary.
“We’ve never had this opportunity to train for an extended period before the NCAA tournament,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance told the Daily Tar Heel. “So it’s allowed us to get a bit healthier and a bit fitter.”
Injuries have hurt Carolina, especially in the back, where Dorrance has been starting two walk-ons, Megan Brickman and Caitlin Ball.
Meg Morris and Satara Murray are back in he starting lineup, but Rachel Wood was limited to 15 minutes in the 1-0 loss to Florida State.
Because of injury and fitness concerns, Dorrance abandoned his favored 3-4-3 formation, and the Tar Heels have started in the 4-2-3-1 system in nine straight games and allowed only five goals during that stretch.
Dorrance used the break in the schedule to get in some extra conditioning work and have his players work on their finishing.
North Carolina enters the game with an all-time record of 108-8-1 in NCAA Tournament play and has never lost in 29 first-round games, but William & Mary (No. 14) is ranked higher than North Carolina (No. 18) in the Soccer America Top 25.
The Tribe won the CAA title to improve to 17-2-2. It is led by CAA Player of the Year Mallory Schaffer, who ranks eighth in the country with 17 goals and 12th in the nation in total points with 40.
Sophomore Dani Rutter has also been fantastic this season, ranking 11th in the country with 11 assists.
First-Team All-CAA pick Cortlyn Bristol, freshman Emory Camper and Rutter all have seven goals -- more than any Carolina player.
Kealia Ohai is UNC's top scorer with only six goals.