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Thursday January 20th

Bittersweet victory on Senior Day in ACC Quarterfinal for UNC men's soccer

<p>UNC Men's Soccer Team celebrates scoring their first goal against Virginia Tech at Finley Fields on November 4th.</p>
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UNC Men's Soccer Team celebrates scoring their first goal against Virginia Tech at Finley Fields on November 4th.

That time of year has come again. 

Decked out in Tar Heel blue, eight North Carolina men’s soccer seniors lined up in front of the fans. One by one they stepped forward to give head coach Carlos Somoano a hug, waved to the crowd and walked back holding framed jerseys as the announcer read off all their accomplishments. 

For the seniors, the moment was surreal. 

“It just goes by so fast. We were freshmen, and we remember seeing the seniors on Senior Day," senior Alex Comsia said. "You think, ‘Oh that’s never going to be you.’" 

Thanks to the junior class, No. 4 UNC (13-2-1, 6-1 ACC) extended its season on Sunday afternoon, earning an ACC quarterfinal victory over No. 22 Virginia Tech (10-6-3, 3-4-1 ACC). The 3-0 win marks the first ACC Tournament win for the program since 2012. 

“It felt like from the beginning all of the guys were playing for the seniors," senior Nils Bruening said. "You could feel that they were all behind us and showed a lot of emotion.”

After an emotional beginning to Senior Sunday, UNC quickly got back into the zone. The younger Tar Heels paid tribute to their seniors the only way they knew how — securing the team’s fourth consecutive shutout and overall 10th of the season. 

“I’m really happy with the response of the guys," Comsia said. "From the first whistle, we came onto the field to win it.” 

UNC came out as aggressive as ever, racking up 13 shots in total. Of the seven shots that were on goal, three went in, all scored by different Tar Heel juniors. Midfielder Jeremy Kelly scored the opening goal, his first of the season. Mauricio Pineda, also a midfielder, scored his fifth goal of the season while forward Jack Skahan continued his hot streak. Skahan scored the final goal of the game and leads the team with seven this season. 

As Skahan continues to power through the season after a knee surgery early in the year, he credits the work ethic and skill of one senior — Bruening — in helping him grow into the player he is today. 

“I’ve learned so much about where to run, how to move and where to touch the ball from him," Skahan said. I would not even be close to the same player I am, and he may not even know that, but it’s just from watching him play, because he’s so much more gifted than I am in soccer." 

On Sunday, housemates Comsia and Bruening continued to push their team like they have all season, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the box score. Comsia blocked shot after shot and beat several Hokies one-on-one, a skill his teammates dubbed his strength. Bruening continued his lethal finishing, opening up chances for his teammates while taking two shots of his own. 

Though only five of the eight seniors played the field Sunday afternoon, all played a pivotal role in the men’s soccer program, according to Somoano. 

“The ones that get to play, they earned the right to play, and they’ve done a great job contributing on the field," Somoano said. "But our program is a whole lot more than winning a game on the field.”

When first-years arrive at UNC, they follow the guidance of the classes above them. Over the years, they learn what it means to be a part of the University and about North Carolina culture, which emphasizes caring about those around you. 

“We always close every huddle with ‘family.' It’s about being a family and caring about each other regardless on if you play every minute or you don’t," Somoano said. "It’s about the commitment to the guys around you," 

Sunday’s Senior Day symbolized the end of an era, a chapter closed for eight senior Tar Heels.   

“I’ll cry like a baby like I do every year when they leave. I want to play as long as possible to have as much time with them as we can,” Somoano said.

@mwc13_3

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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