“She's obviously a huge player to fill in for,” Kimball said of her sophomore teammate. “But I just come in and try to impact the game as much as I can — not so much in ways Alessia did, but in the best ways that I can.”
Those results were evident from the box score. In the 14 games Russo played this season, she was an offensive workhorse. Her six goals, 59 shots and 27 shots on goal were all team highs. On Saturday, Kimball adopted a similar role.
In the first half, she was responsible for three of North Carolina’s five shots on goal. The first came at the 2:20 mark, when a nutmeg pass by Bridgette Andrzejewski quickly turned a scrum into a perfect opportunity for Kimball.
“I was just pressing like I typically do,” she said. “And I saw Bridg get the ball. It was kind of a two-v.-two situation, and I just called for it and she played me in.”
The pass hit her in stride, on the right side of the field. Kimball, pronounced Kim-bull, outran one defender and ripped a right-footed shot to the near post. The Virginia Tech goalie deflected her first attempt, but the rebound came right back to Kimball, who found the back of the net on her second try.
“She turned her minutes into gold …” head coach Anson Dorrance said. “She knows these are the last minutes of her collegiate life, and she's spending them very wisely. I'm just so proud of the way she’s playing and what she’s doing. I couldn't be prouder of any player on roster.”
Following her eventual game-winner, Kimball had two more shots on goal in the next eight minutes. She subbed out for the last third of the first half, but when she came back on to start the second, it was more of the same — the offense was running through her.
“Putting A.K. in there, it just brings a different element to our team,” said Dorian Bailey, who scored UNC’s second goal. “A.K.’s so aggressive, and she's willing to make any run — every run … When we don't have Alessia on the field, they just play a different style, but it works, because we have so much depth on this team.”
North Carolina’s win was a comfortable one. The team outshot Virginia Tech, 20-3, and the Hokies did not record a single shot on goal. UNC has now won 11 straight games and shut out five straight opponents. Next up is Clemson on Friday night in the tournament semifinals.
Until then, Kimball can relish in what’s been an eventful four days. Her family was in town for Thursday’s senior night festivities and her career game on Sunday. After the game, with a Hershey’s chocolate milk in one hand and a bottle of fruit juice in the other, she even gave a shout-out to her grandpa — it was his birthday.
And, from a tactical standpoint, Kimball has carved out a crucial role on UNC’s offense. In what will be the final two tournaments of her career, she’ll have ample opportunity to run hard and play freely and aggressively — things that, for the better part of four seasons, she waited patiently to do.
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