Assistant SportSaturday Editor
DURHAM - In the 12 years of the ACC women's soccer tournament, the only team besides North Carolina to capture the title was N.C. State, champion in 1988.
The two teams faced off Thursday in the tournament quarterfinals, and in a season already full of surprises - three UNC conference losses being the most prominent - the scene seemed ripe for a Wolfpack upset.
Meredith Florance scored twice, and Jordan Walker had a goal and an assist to lead the Tar Heels past State 5-1 at Duke's Koskinen Stadium.
Today at 6 p.m., the Tar Heels look to avenge a 3-2 regular-season loss to Florida State, which, after a 1-1 tie, needed penalty kicks to advance against No. 2 seed Wake Forest.
"I think anytime you lose, you have something to prove," Walker said. "There's definitely some added motivation."
The Tar Heels (14-3) got on the board Thursday in the second minute of the game thanks to an own goal. The Wolfpack's Jaci Harper, under pressure from Alyssa Ramsey, struck a back pass over goalkeeper Gretchen Lear, who had come off the goal line.
But only eight minutes later, the Wolfpack (10-7-3) equalized when Lauren Bendahan found Erin Bushey unmarked on a left-wing corner kick.
"After the own goal, I was looking to see what was going to happen," State coach Laura Kerrigan said. "That goal brought us right back in the game, and it was a game until the last 15 minutes."
The teams in the ACC were as even as they have been in conference history. All eight teams were ranked in the top 25 at some point in the season, and UNC's No. 3 seed is its lowest tournament seed ever.
Gone are the days where the Tar Heels can coast through to the tournament finals, and Thursday's game - much tighter than the score indicates - was indicative of that.
"We used to come into this first game, try to get up two or three goals in the first 15 minutes and then open up the sideline, making sure the girls recovered physically," UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. "All that's changed now."
N.C. State's physical defense kept the Tar Heels off-balance for most of the first half following the Bushey goal. UNC misfired on several passes in the attacking third of the field and at times looked unorganized.
Florance converted a Walker through pass in the 25th minute to give the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead, but UNC wasn't pleased with its first-half performance.
"We have to realize that that we have to just put teams away in the first half," Florance said.
The Wolfpack nearly tied the game at two in the 65th minute when Shannon Tully found herself with a breakaway against keeper Jenni Branam. But Tully hesitated at the top of the penalty area and was forced to drop it back to Rachel Durr, whose 20-yard shot Branam easily stopped.
Seconds later, Florance knocked home a Maggie Tomecka pass from the top of the 6-yard box - her 21st goal in 17 games this season. Only then was the game under control from UNC's standpoint.
"If (Tully) had scored that, it would have been a different story," Kerrigan said. "North Carolina is very good at capitalizing on missed opportunities."
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