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Courage continue rampant run in Challenge Cup

CARY — After breaking multiple National Women’s Soccer League scoring records the week before, the NC Courage ran riot in the Challenge Cup again, downing the Orlando Pride 5-0 on Saturday, July 29.

Across the two dominant wins, seven different players found the back of the net, while Brittany Ratcliffe and Frankie Tagliaferri scored in both games.

“Good performance overall, I thought we started out a bit slow and sloppy,” head coach Sean Nahas said. “Once we adjusted to their press and the spaces they were trying to close out for us and adjusted our movements a little bit and the lines that we wanted to take up, I thought we dictated the game. …Everyone did their job tonight. It was a great team performance and a massive three points for us.”

Ratcliffe got the scoring going in the 17th minute, before drawing a penalty late in the half. Malia Berkely stepped up to the spot and buried the penalty with confidence.

While Berkely was soft spoken about burying the penalty, rookie forward Haley Hopkins sang her teammate’s praises.

“The thing is that the keeper went early and Malia is smart enough and technical enough to hit it exactly where the needs to be based on reading the keeper,” Hopkins said. “That is a very difficult thing to do. That’s not to be taken lightly.”

Tagliaferri added to the scoring onslaught just after the halftime break with a well-struck volley.

Hopkins led the way for the Courage, with the former Virginia Cavalier scoring her first two professional goals after coming off the bench in the 71st minute.

“I was just so excited to be out there and play again and get some good minutes under my belt with this tea,” Hopkins said. “They make it so easy to come in no matter what time of the game it is. I’m just so excited that I got to be out there and just playing, having fun. It was fun, most importantly.”

For Nahas, the goals were a long time coming for Hopkins.

“I hope she builds off of it,” Nahas said. “She has worked her tail off. I’ve been quite hard on Haley, as I am with all the players, not because of any other reason than I know what they’re capable of and we want to get the most out of them. …I’m really proud of her.”

Both of Hopkins’ goals were assisted by fellow rookies, with Olivia Wingate and Sarah Clark, who the club signed to a national team replacement contract in June, finding the forward in dangerous spots. The team finished out the game with four rookies on the field.

“There’s not many teams that can say that,” Nahas said. “It’s a credit to our players, it’s a credit to our staff, it’s a credit to everyone that takes care of them that we are able to still have that impact and if anything, change the game.”

The Courage will hit the road for its next game, taking on NJ/NY Gotham FC in the final East Division game of the Challenge Cup.