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Saturday April 1st

Spruill seizes her moment as UNC women's soccer clinches ACC regular season title

<p>Defender (16) Julia Ashley dribbles down the field during Sunday's win against Marquette.</p>
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Defender (16) Julia Ashley dribbles down the field during Sunday's win against Marquette.

CARY — A week ago, Sydney Spruill’s minutes were dwindling.

But a perfect storm materialized for her on Sunday afternoon, 59 minutes into the No. 3 North Carolina women’s soccer team’s 2-0 win over Miami. 

With UNC’s first outright ACC regular season championship since 2010 on the line, the sophomore forward seized the moment — a moment, she admits, that she doesn’t really remember.

“I don’t know,” Spruill said. “I was kind of in the moment, and then I just saw it and was like, ‘OK, you just got to hit it, and hopefully it goes in.’”

She remembered a teammate making a run to the near post, which opened up a window for her to shoot. But that’s about it. 

The next thing she knew, a ball sent by Bridgette Andrzejewski squeaked by a herd of Miami defenders and Tar Heel forwards and found Spruill's feet just inside the 18-yard box. And then, for the second and final time on Sunday afternoon, a shot found the back of the net. 

Spruill's first goal of the season all but cemented North Carolina’s fate as ACC regular-season champion.

“Rachel Jones got hurt, which means me and (Madison Schultz) were able to play more,” Spruill said. “So I just wanted to make a lot out of my minutes and give everything I’ve got just so that we could secure the win and not let Miami tie it up or beat us.”

With the win, head coach Anson Dorrance notched his 22nd ACC regular-season title. By the end of Sunday's game, he was afforded the chance to play a lot of his roster, had no newly-introduced injuries and came out with a win — the ingredients, he said postgame, to make it a good day for him and his team “from every conceivable perspective.”

Dorrance commented on Spruill’s impactful performance on Sunday, also noting that Schultz, the other left-wing forward, “played her game of the season.”

“Well, it started in the last game,” Dorrance said of Spruill's play. “She was fighting for more minutes, and her minutes were being clipped because, obviously, Jones has done a nice job for us this year as a starting left wing as a freshman … It wasn’t just Jones, but Maddie Schultz was also getting in ahead of her, and then all of a sudden, Schultz faltered a bit last game, and so that gave her a platform to play from.”

Spruill said she and Schultz, who are good friends, try to outwork each other every day in practice. 

“When she scores, I’m happy,” Spruill said. “When I score, she’s happy for me.”

Spruill’s breakout performance came in a match where the Tar Heels were able to create plenty of opportunities but couldn’t seem to put the Hurricanes away for good.

North Carolina outshot Miami 36-2 and put 19 of those shots on goal. The team also forced nine corner kicks to Miami’s one. 

Miami routinely placed 10 of 11 players on its back line — a strategy that held UNC scoreless until the game’s 41st minute, when Zoe Redei floated in her fourth goal of the season.

“I was trying to cross it, not going to lie, and I had a little bit of luck on my side, and it went in the upper corner,” Redei said. “We were really close last year, and being a junior, this is our first time winning it, so it’s really exciting to contribute to that.”

After the Tar Heel victory, Spruill grabbed a resistance band and plopped down on the damp grass to finish out her afternoon with cool-down stretches. Some reserves were completing the remainder of their mandatory conditioning, running timed sprints up the left sideline.

A player doing the wind sprints joked with her in between a pair of exhales: “Just because you scored doesn’t mean you can’t move!”

Spruill scooted a few feet, happy to make room for her teammates.

But on the field, as Sunday's performance reveals, she doesn't plan to make room for anyone.

@alexzietlow05 | @DTHSports

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