Though the Clemson women’s soccer team fell 4-0 at home to seventh-ranked North Carolina, Coach Eddie Radwanski was more than satisfied with the Tigers’ determination and competitive edge.
Now he’d just like to see some tangible reward for that effort, something that appeared only to instantly evaporate when a late goal by the Tigers’ Tabitha Padgett was cancelled by a called-foul.
“I was pleased with our effort tonight, and our ability to compete and battle,” said Radwanski. “Just talking to (UNC coach) Anson (Dorrance) afterwards, he said, ‘Eddie, this wasn’t a 4-0 game. I don’t think the score was indicative of it.’ Now, let’s give North Carolina a lot of credit, because they’re a good team.
“It’s one of their more athletic teams, and they have pace up-front, and pace in the back. We were trying to get behind them, and when we did a couple of times it got a little interesting, and we created some opportunities. It was a bit unlucky at the end there. I felt that was a legitimate goal and that the kids deserved something for their work.”
While pulling that late goal back wouldn’t have changed the outcome, it would have more fairly and accurately reflected the Tigers’ will to compete.
As to the phantom-infringement, it followed from Clemson’s Maddy Elder playing an in-swinging left-side corner kick to the near post. Arriving on a run down the goal-line, Padgett deflected the ball off her hip and into the net as UNC keeper Adelaide Gay converged. The goal was disallowed, though Padgett had every right to the ball, and any contact appeared to have been initiated by Gay.
“Tabitha wasn’t going backwards, she was going forward,” Radwanski noted. “The keeper has nowhere to go except to run into our player.”
While trying to remain compact defensively, in attack the Tigers were looking to play directly and aggressively in the first half, and were still within striking-distance after conceding a pointblank header to the Tar Heels’ Hanna Gardner in the 21st-minute.
The possibility of reaching the break with a manageable deficit literally took a big hit in the 37th-minute. That’s when a Clemson foul gave UNC’s Amber Brooks a dead-ball opportunity that she converted from 24 yards out, right center. Brooks’ right-footed strike was world-class and the ball just cleared Tiger keeper Morgan Hert’s airborne stretch before dipping and caroming into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
“You’ve got to give Amber Brooks credit,” said Radwanski. “That was just a hell of a free-kick goal that she scored. When there’s quality, you just have to applaud it.”
For most of the second half, the Tigers defended resolutely against a team with multiple threats on the attacking side, and still looked for transition opportunities to get forward. That trend held until around the 80th-minute, and a two-minute span in which the visitors were able to salt the game away with a pair of goals by Maria Lubrano.
After taking a left-side cross from Summer Green and beating Hert on the short side at the near-post with a close-range, glancing header, Lubrano broke clear on a through-ball from Brooks and tacked on the Tar Heels’ final tally by beating Hert 1-v-1.
“In the second half we talked about coming out and being competitive and trying to get behind them, and the kids, for the majority of the half, really did a fantastic job“ said Radwanski. “We just got caught on one mistake, and they punished us. So lots of good things went on out there, and at the very least we wanted to compete, and we did that against a very good North Carolina team.”
Radwanski pointed out that Clemson assistant coach (and former U.S. National Team goalkeeper) Siri Mullinix played on some of North Carolina’s strongest teams and that she always regarded Clemson as a competitive nemesis. And though his own team slipped to 5-9-2, and 0-8 in the ACC, while the Tar Heels improved to 8-3-2, and 4-2-1, he believes that the restoration of that competitive mentality is the first and truest measure of a program in process of rebuilding.
“When Siri played there, she didn’t lose an ACC game,” he said. “But she will tell you that her most difficult game was always playing Clemson. Why? Because Clemson would battle and fight, and that’s something that we’re trying to bring back.
“That’s just a decision, and a mentality. That’s why I told the kids that they should walk off the field with their heads high. Okay, we didn’t get the result, but we competed and fought. Yes, North Carolina deserved to win that game, but our girls showed up collectively to compete. And from where we are, that’s what we can ask for.”