In a battle for first place in the ACC, the No. 2 North Carolina women’s soccer team picked up a 2-1 road win against No. 4 Florida State on Thursday night in Tallahassee.
The Tar Heels first scoring opportunity came in the opening minute when first-year forward Ally Sentnor worked her way into the left side of box, but her attempt went by without a threat. Minutes later, Florida State played a pass into midfielder Jenna Nighswonger, who sent a through ball into the feet of Onyi Echegini. The junior midfielder got behind the UNC defense and rolled a shot past Emmie Allen to give the Seminoles an early 1-0 lead.
The Seminoles continued to apply pressure, which led to a yellow card by UNC senior defender Maggie Pierce in the 22nd minute. Florida State attempted a low free kick from just outside the box, but the shot skipped past the net. In the 28th minute, the Seminoles played a low cross near the net that was deflected away by UNC’s Abby Allen before a header on the ensuing corner attempt went over the crossbar.
After a quick defensive stop, the Tar Heels were finally able to launch a counter attack in the 32nd minute. With only one player between her and the goal, Sentnor fired a left-footed shot that went off the hand of the Seminole defender, which drew a penalty kick. Seconds later, UNC senior defender Tori Hansen calmly stepped into the box and drilled a high shot just the past outstretched arm of FSU’s Cristina Roque to tie the game at one goal apiece.
With just under 10 minutes left in the half, Nighswonger sent a long over-the-top pass to Echegini, who nearly scored her second goal of the night before Allen knocked the shot away. Both teams had several offensive chances in the final minutes yet wound up entering the break with the score at 1-1.
Florida State had the first opportunity to score in the second half, but Nighswonger's shot sailed high. Several minutes later, the Seminoles had another prime scoring chance after Emmie Allen misplayed a pass back to her inside the box before FSU's Beata Olsson took control of the ball and launched a shot that rang off the left post.
On the next trip down the field, UNC launched another abrupt counter attack that resulted in Sentnor dancing her way into the box. Taking on two defenders, she dribbled left and sent a strike into the top-right corner to put the Tar Heels ahead with 30 minutes to play.
Five minutes later, Olsson attempted a header that was saved by Allen. Both teams continued to build chances, yet each try was shut down by the opposing defense for the next 10 minutes.
The shorthanded UNC defense continued to slow down the Seminoles' urgent attack, as Florida State was unable to develop any creative scoring opportunities. The Seminoles drew a free kick just outside the box with just under five minutes to play, but the set piece attempt flew left of the net.
Over the final minutes, the Tar Heels dropped nearly every player back on defense, which was enough to secure the 2-1 win.
Who stood out?
Each time UNC appeared to be in a dry spell, Sentnor was the one responsible for creating the Tar Heels' offense. The handball she drew in the first half allowed the team to get on the board, and her fourth goal of the season gave the team the lead for good.
Hansen was also a key contributor, as her penalty opened the Tar Heels' scoring. After only scoring one goal during her first three years in Chapel Hill, Hansen's six goals this season ranks second on the team.
The Seminoles were led by Nighswonger, whose midfield play ignited the team’s offensive attack. Her early assist was her 11th of the year – four more than any other player in the conference.
When was it decided?
After a tightly contested first half, both teams came out of the break looking to make a quick statement. Following the miscue that nearly gifted the Seminoles a goal early in the period, Sentnor's goal put UNC in control for the remainder of the game.
Olsson and the Seminoles had several chances to score an equalizer, yet the Tar Heels' back line was routinely there to stymie these attempts.
Why does it matter?
As the two top teams in the conference, both sides were looking to use the match as an opportunity to gain control of first place. With only two games remaining, the win allows UNC to control its own destiny in clinching at least a share of its fourth regular season conference title in the last five years.
The victory is the Tar Heels' first win over the Seminoles since 2018.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will continue their Florida road trip when they take on Miami on Sunday. The match will begin at 1 p.m.
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