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Friday March 24th

UNC women's soccer downs Duke, 1-0, wins 21st ACC championship

<p>UNC forward Alessia Russo (19) fights for control over the ball against UNC-Wilmington on Sept. 3.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC forward Alessia Russo (19) fights for control over the ball against UNC-Wilmington on Sept. 3. 

The North Carolina women’s soccer team won the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2009 after holding off rival Duke, 1-0.

In a tightly contested final match before the NCAA Tournament, the Tar Heels prevented the Blue Devils from winning their first ACC Tournament championship since the tournament began in 1988.

It’s not often the No. 4 Tar Heels (15-2-2, 8-0-2 ACC) are the underdogs, but they entered the championship game on Sunday afternoon ranked below the No. 2 Blue Devils (19-2, 10-0 ACC). Both teams are expected to be highly-seeded teams in the College Cup.

After a scoreless first half, UNC came out of halftime with 45 minutes and a Tobacco Road rival separating them from its 21st ACC Tournament title. Despite taking two good shots on goal, the Tar Heels hadn’t found the back of the net yet.

Then, fresh off the break, Zoe Redei arrived. Just 47 seconds into the half, a strong kick by Alessia Russo bounced off a Duke defender in the box and landed in front of Redei. She followed it up with her own shot from 10 yards out that found the top shelf for her second score of the year.

With plenty of game left, North Carolina hoped to close the game out and Duke tried to bring the game within reach. In the last few minutes, the Blue Devils pushed hard to score —including a near goal in the last five minutes that was saved by goalie Samantha Leshnak.

But in the end, Duke came up empty handed. Since losing 2-1 to North Carolina in its second match of the season, the Blue Devils had won 19 consecutive matches — 10 of which were conference wins.

Redei and Russo were the hardest fighting offensive players all game that were always at the center of the Tar Heel offense. Redei took two shots on goal in 45 minutes, and scored the goal that put North Carolina ahead for good. 

Russo — the MVP of the tournament and the hero of the last game against N.C. State — received an assist on Redei's goal and facilitated the offense throughout the game. Russo was named to the All-Tournament team along with Julia Ashley, Joanna Boyles, Dorian Bailey and Abby Elinsky.

Leshnak was also a bright spot for North Carolina. She notched two second-half saves to stymie a late Duke offensive push and prevented overtime. The goalie, along with the Tar Heel defense, now boasts 11 shut out wins on the year.

The last time North Carolina won an ACC Tournament championship, head coach Anson Dorrance and his team won a national championship. The Tar Heels played in the conference championship last year, but fell to Florida State in penalty kicks.

The Tar Heels will bask in its win at least until tomorrow night, when they’ll receive a seed for the College Cup — the end-of-year NCAA Tournament which begins on Saturday. 

Entering postseason soccer on a high note may catalyze confidence for the Tar Heels, who are chasing their program’s first national championship since 2012.


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