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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC women's soccer loses, 3-2, to Florida State, falls short of ACC Championship win

Women's Soccer ACC Championship
Alex Kimball (47), a redshirt senior midfielder for the Tar Heels' women's soccer team, takes a hard tackle from a defender during the 2018 ACC Championship game against Florida State on Sunday, Nov. 4.

The No. 3 North Carolina women’s soccer team isn’t used to playing from behind.

Before Sunday’s ACC Championship game at WakeMed Soccer Park, the team hadn’t trailed by more than a goal since Sept. 11, 2016. In program history, there had been just 24 instances in 954 games in which North Carolina trailed by multiple goals.

But that’s exactly the position the Tar Heels found themselves in, down 2-0 at halftime against No. 7 Florida State.

And if it weren’t for a late FSU goal in the 84th minute, the Tar Heel comeback — which included a hustle play goal by Alex Kimball, and a Ru Mucherera header that might have been the play of the season — was going to be one for the books. But ultimately the comeback fell short and Florida State won, 3-2.

The Seminoles came out strong in the first half, threatening the Tar Heel back line early to open up multiple scoring opportunities. In the 36th minute, Florida State broke through with a goal outside the box by senior midfielder Dallas Dorosy. It was the first goal UNC has allowed since Oct. 7 against Syracuse and the first goal allowed by keeper Samantha Leshnak in 1,119 minutes and 23 seconds, a program record.

In the 41st minute, Dorosy doubled the FSU lead with a follow-up goal on a deflectionand left the Tar Heels in a 2-0 hole with a half and some change to go. Head coach Anson Dorrance’s team had its work cut out.

At the break, FSU led 8-3 in shots, an illustration of just how incisive its first-half attack was. The Seminoles, particularly in the second part of the first period, nimbly picked apart the Tar Heel defense to great effect.

After what was likely a reflective halftime period, the Tar Heel comeback would begin in earnest — but not without a lot of hustle and a little luck.

“Nothing negative was said,” Mucherera said when asked about the halftime turnaround. “It was about turning the negatives into positives.”

At the 63-minute mark, Kimball, a redshirt senior midfielder, was able to create a positive play, chasing down the FSU keeper and blocking a clearance attempt. The ball ricocheted and slowly rolled its way into the net. That was all it took: North Carolina was officially back in it.

“I saw the play formulating, and I saw the defender pass it back, and I just jumped on the opportunity to press her as hard as I can,” Kimball said. “Sometimes goalkeepers don’t get a clean strike off the ball, so I saw an opportunity and just went for it.”

In the 72nd minute, first-year midfielder Rachel Jones and Mucherera connected for a goal that can only be described as Dorrance put it, “fabulous.” Jones, backed up against the sideline and pressured by the FSU defense, soared a cross to Mucherera inside the box, who tucked in a mind-boggling header to tie the game.

With the score now tied at two apiece, all bets were off — but the North Carolina comeback would be left unfinished.

In the 84th minute, Florida State crossed a ball into the box, where it was headed in for a goal to give the Seminoles the separation they needed.

In a final desperation chance, the Tar Heels had a set piece off a corner kick in the 87th minute, but the ensuing header was not to be. Despite a riveting comeback, North Carolina was bested by a conference opponent for the first time this season.

“We’re obviously disappointed, but not disappointed with our effort,” Dorrance said. “Obviously, congratulations to Florida State and their excellent staff and team. That was an incredible run for them.”

Both teams would finish with 10 shots on the day, with UNC holding a 7-2 advantage in the second half. The Tar Heels also earned four corner kicks to Florida State’s two.

As for the Tar Heels, credit goes to Leshnak for preventing more FSU scores. With seconds left in the first half, Leshnak came barreling out of goal to clear a ball that could’ve given the Seminoles a third goal before the break.  

What does the loss mean going forward? The winner of the ACC Championship has gone on to win the NCAA Women’s College Cup 15 times, the most recent being Florida State in 2014. 

Despite the loss, the Tar Heels are in a great position to threaten for the NCAA crown. The Tar Heels, who are second in the nation in RPI, will expect to receive an at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week. Dorrance’s squad will look to come out motivated by the tournament loss, and ready to chase a record 22nd NCAA title.

“I still think we’ve got a great shot at a No. 1 seed, which is the goal of the regular season,” Dorrance said. “I think we still have a wonderful shot at that.”

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