Alessia Russo stood outside of the box, waiting for her chance.
The junior forward watched as three North Carolina women’s soccer players battled Colorado inside the 18. Sophomore midfielder Brianna Pinto laid the ball off to Russo, who rocketed a shot from 20 yards out.
The ball flew over the ground, then slammed into the lower left corner of the goal. It was the only goal in the No. 2 Tar Heels' 1-0 win over Colorado in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday.
“As tournament time is kicking in, we’re getting less and less chances, so it’s just about being clinical,” Russo said. “Luckily, with the assists we’ve been getting from all of the girls in the past few games, they’ve just been coming nicely.
“It’s just a simple finish.”
The goal was Russo’s sixth in the last four games, and her team-leading 12th goal on the season. Based on those numbers alone, fans might not have been able to tell that she went on a 10-game scoreless streak earlier this season, or that she broke her leg a little over a year ago and missed the end of the 2018 season.
None of that mattered on Friday.
“That’s who she is,” redshirt junior midfielder Taylor Otto said. “She scores bangers.”
With the win, UNC earned its spot in the Sweet 16. Dorrance Field had a record 4,235 fans present to watch the team's 18th shutout in 23 games.
Next, the Tar Heels will face Michigan at 1 p.m. on Sunday in the third round of the tournament.
Head coach Anson Dorrance said the win didn't come easily.
“That was the most nerve-racking game I’ve ever been involved in when we’ve outshot a team 20-5 and had seven corner kicks to zero, because their ability to win balls in the air and also the long throw made everything perilous,” he said. “I want to congratulate a very scrappy Colorado team that certainly made us work for that.”
The two teams aren’t strangers to one another. Since 2014, the Buffaloes and Tar Heels have competed three times in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina won all of those matches by a score of 1-0.
From the get-go, the game was chippy. In a span of 13 minutes, the Tar Heels racked up four fouls. Then came a series of close shots. Senior forward Bridgette Andrzejewski almost scored off a header in the 17th minute. Later, junior defender Lotte Wubben-Moy took a corner, and once again, Pinto almost scored.
By halftime, UNC totaled 10 shots, four of which were on goal. Colorado, on the other hand, had only one shot.
The Tar Heels came out firing on all cylinders in the second half, culminating in Russo’s laser goal in the 48th minute.
“That was a wonder strike,” Dorrance said. “Thank goodness for that, because it seemed like it would be one of those days for us where we just weren’t going to get a finish. I’m pleased to be alive and relatively well, although a little frazzled, in the NCAA Tournament.”
After losing both the ACC and NCAA title games to Florida State, UNC kicked off this season with one goal in mind — redemption. The team’s revenge tour is two for two right now, having captured both the ACC regular season title and tournament title.
Now, the Tar Heels need just one more crown.
“We’re still hurting from last year,” Russo said. “We’re focusing on putting things right. We’ve done two of the three trophies this year, and we’re in the pursuit for the third.”
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