COLLEGE STATION, Texas- Junior Amber Gnatzig scored a pair of goals as the 11th-ranked Texas A&M soccer team dropped its first match of the year to No. 2 North Carolina, 3-2, after a back and forth battle at the Aggie Soccer Stadium on Friday evening.
In front of 5,642 fans, Gnatzig and the Aggies came back from a 2-0 deficit in the first half, but a game-winning goal in the 82nd minute by UNC lifted the Tar Heels to 2-0 on the season, while A&M fell to 2-1.
“We have a team that’s still emerging,” said head coach G Guerrieri. “They are very talented and we have to get them to understand that they are good enough to go toe to toe with some really good teams. They were put into an environment where they needed to grow up and I thought that they responded well for a good portion of the second half. We have to learn from this and we’ll see how much we grow up.”
North Carolina held possession early in the match and A&M pushed the ball into its attacking third for the first time in the 11th minute.
UNC got on the board first in the 19th minute. The Tarheels received a throw in on the left flank as Casey Nogueira obtained the ball at point-blank range and fired into the left-side netting.
In the 30th minute, Allie Long sent the ball to Nogueira in front of the six-yard box. Nogueira fired a low shot across the goal that landed just inside the far post to put UNC on top 2-0.
With the Tar Heels holding the advantage at the half, a relentless A&M attack came out on fire early in the second period. Just three minutes in, Gnatzig scored her first goal of the season. Sophomore Rachel Shipley headed a hard shot that was blocked by the defense. Gnatzig crashed the goal and got her foot on the rebound to bring the Aggies within one.
“We finally calmed down in the second half and were able to set the pace,” said Gnatzig. “I told myself I was going to get in there and was going to do whatever it took and I got in the box.”
In the 69th minute, sophomore Alyssa Mautz fired a long shot from the top of the penalty box that North Carolina keeper Ashlyn Harris knocked away. Gnatzig was there again for the rebound and this time pounded the ball into the left side of the goal to even the score, 2-2.
The Tar Heels spoiled an A&M comeback as Courtney Jones scored the game-winning goal from the six-yard box in the 82nd minute.
“North Carolina is always an outstanding conditioned team,” said Guerrieri. “There was a part of the second half that I thought we had the upper hand and we had them on the ropes a little bit. I give UNC a lot of credit because they responded and made a couple key substitutions. They were able to find their second wind.”
Junior keeper Kelly Dyer replaced an injured Kristin Arnold in goal with about eight minutes remaining in the first half and made five saves for the Aggies. A solid A&M defense held the UNC shot count to a minimum in the second half.
“Kelly is an incredible goalie,” said Gnatzig. “She worked her tail off in the spring and stepped up and did what she had to do tonight.”
A&M returns to action against Indiana at home on Sunday. The game is slated for 1:30 p.m. No. 14 Tennessee takes on North Carolina before the Aggie soccer match at 11 a.m.