CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (WNCN) — A year ago, North Carolina was fresh off a final four appearance with all but one player returning from that squad. When six incoming players earned the starting job, Tar Heels Women’s Soccer Coach Anson Dorrance started to smell trouble. 

“That’s not a good indication for success,” Dorrancse said. “If your leadership isn’t committed to continuing to raise the standard, you’re going to struggle a bit and of course we did. We struggled last fall.”

Carolina went 12-3-3 last season, the fewest wins UNC Women’s Soccer has had since its inaugural season in 1979, and suffered their first-ever first round loss in the NCAA Tournament. 

This year, Dorrance has noticed a different edge in the squad. 

“This is the fittest we’ve ever been,” Coach Dorrance said. “I’ve been coaching 45 years and this is the fittest any team I’ve coached has come in.”

Carolina does an aerobic fitness test the first morning of camp and the 2022 squad obliterated it. The Beep Test is a multi-stage running test used to determine an athlete’s physical fitness. A player continuously runs back and forth between two markers in sync with beeps from a pre-recorded audio.

This year’s squad set a record for number of people over 50, while freshman Tessa Dellarose set the program record for the highest beep score ever recorded at 57.

“When you have a kid that is willing to compete like that, willing to set an incredibly high standard, it sort of motivates the entire team because it shows what’s humanly possible,” Dorrance said. “We knew she’d come in fit. The question was does she have the skillset to compete to get on the field and she does.”

Her 57 earned her the start for the Tar Heels first scrimmage on Sunday, August 7 against VCU, but who will start in net? That’s the question the Tar Heels are trying to answer this pre-season after three-year starter Claudia Dickey left to play professionally.

Dickey played every minute last season for UNC while Marz Josephson and Emmie Allen sat behind her on the bench. This year, they’re competing for the starting job, along with true freshman Nona Reason. 

“It’s sort of game on,” Dorrance said. “It’s like the classical yanno football conundrum when you’ve got these two quarterbacks that are battling it out and the coach is reluctant to say which one is the starter. We might play them both.”

North Carolina welcomes back 10 players who started 11 or more games last season, including four of their top five goal scorers from last year’s squad. 

“I like our depth,” Dorrance said .”We’ve got two or three starters in every position that I would feel comfortable playing right now. I think that’s going to be our best attribute.”

UNC plays VCU on Sunday, August 8 in an exhibition at Dorrance Field. The following week they will welcome BYU (No. 3 in the preseason poll) to Chapel Hill for their second and final preseason game of the season.