CARY, N.C. – Perched in his familiar stance on the North Carolina sideline, Anson Dorrance wasn't worried – even if he had every right to be.
In a year marked by season-ending injuries and second half collapses, the Tar Heels seemed primed to add another chapter to the saga in their College Cup semifinal clash against Florida State on Friday night.
After senior defender Julia Dorsey netted her first goal of the year to give UNC a 3-0 lead, the Seminoles’ desperation and pedigree as reigning national champions sparked life into their urgent attack as the team scored two quick headers to steepen the drama.
Yet, when the Tar Heels held onto a 3-2 win to clinch their first national title appearance since 2019, the 44-season coaching veteran couldn’t help but grin at the display of resiliency that mirrored the team’s mindset all season.
“For a team like ours that doesn’t have the experience of a Florida State or the overwhelming talent when we lost two of the best players in the country, what makes up for it is the fact that these kids are just killing themselves for each other,” Dorrance said. “We were hanging on by a thread for a while in the second half and then we were able to coalesce and find a way to push forward.”
Coupled to the long list of adversity was facing the gaudy Florida State team that returned to WakeMed Soccer Park weeks after dominating UNC on the same field in the ACC Championship final. In the previous contest, the Tar Heels were held without a corner attempt for the first time all season as the Seminoles claimed the conference title.
Although Florida State seemed to control most of the match on Friday – holding a 25-14 shot advantage and boasting a 13-3 corner differential – the Tar Heels converted on timely scoring chances by displaying an aggressive offense that often featured as many as eight attackers in the top half of the field.
“We can play,” Dorsey said. “We don’t need to kick the ball out and defend, we can play with them and generate more possession, and it was more a message of not being scared of them.”
With just over three minutes to play in the first half, newly inserted substitute Aleigh Gambone found herself in the middle of the attacking area. After first-year forward Maddie Dahlien’s cross was errantly knocked away by FSU’s Heather Payne, the senior midfielder launched a rebound shot past the keeper to give the team much-needed momentum.