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Wednesday February 8th

Alessia Russo's goal in double overtime propels UNC women's soccer to ACC Championship

<p>Junior forward Alessia Russo (19) charges in the ACC women's soccer semifinal match on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 against NC State at WakeMed Soccer Park. UNC beat NC State 3-0.&nbsp;</p>
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Junior forward Alessia Russo (19) charges in the ACC women's soccer semifinal match on Friday, Nov. 8, 2019 against NC State at WakeMed Soccer Park. UNC beat NC State 3-0. 

CARY, N.C. — There is a reason that Alessia Russo wears the number 19 on her jersey.

Worn by both Mia Hamm and Crystal Dunn during their time with the North Carolina women's soccer team, the number had been long retired when Russo arrived at UNC. By offering it to her, head coach Anson Dorrance was making an implicit promise to the world — she will earn this. She will be great. 

After Russo scored the game-winning goal in double-overtime against previously unbeaten No. 1 Virginia in the ACC Championship game — winning MVP of the ACC Tournament for the second time in her career in the process — consider that promise fulfilled. 

It happened after over 100 minutes of play, with a ball sent over the top by junior defender/midfielder Emily Fox that Russo had to beat UVA's Zoe Morse to. 

From there, the Kent, England native cut to her left, then immediately cut back to her right to turn around Talia Staude of the Cavaliers. That was before her right foot sent a rocket into the far left post, out of the outstretched arms of Virginia goalie Michaela Moran to end the game. 

"I don't really remember it, to be honest," Russo said of her goal. "It was a fight, and we knew that Virginia was a tough team coming into the game. They were No. 1 for a reason and unbeaten for a reason. We knew it could go to overtime or even PKs, but we fought till the end." 

Russo's goal was a statement about her own career, but the win on Sunday was a statement for the entire women's soccer team. 

"It was a big stage and an opportunity to prove ourselves, and I think that's what we did," first-year defender Maycee Bell said. 

The win was the first time UNC has defeated a No. 1 team since 2012, when a then-No. 14 North Carolina team defeated Stanford in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament en route to the program's last national championship. 

This iteration of the Tar Heels has been here before, though just without Russo. They made it to the ACC Championship game last year against Florida State, down their injured star forward and Fox, one of the team's best defenders who was away with the U.S. Women's National Team in Europe. 

"We were without, as you can see, two incredibly classy players," Dorrance said. "These were not ordinary players that weren't with us." 

Against Virginia, there was no handicap. Despite that, the Cavaliers had multiple opportunities to go up in the game and rob Russo of the chance for a game-winner.

A shot by Rebecca Jarrett, who earlier in the tournament scored a golden goal for Virginia against FSU, nearly ended the game in the first overtime, hitting the far post and popping up dangerously in North Carolina's box.

It was the type of fluke play that cost UNC the national championship in 2018, when a deflected ball ended with the only goal of the match for Florida State. 

Unlike last year, there was no heartbreaking goal off a chance play. And — perhaps more importantly — unlike last year, Russo is healthy for UNC.

The Tar Heels redeemed their loss in the ACC Championship last year. All that's left is to do it again in the next leg of the postseason. 

"It's a new season, and it's hopefully time to put things right," Russo said. "We've been working so hard since the Final Four (last year). We kind of drew a line under it, and it's a new season and it's a new group of girls. We're ready to go attack the NCAA Tournament." 


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