UNC ends skid, advances in ACC Tournament
The statistic is almost unthinkable for the powerhouse North Carolina women's soccer team.
The Tar Heels, winners of 22 national championships and 20 ACC titles, had not won in the conference tournament in their last three games. Could that even be possible?
UNC (17-3) doesn't have to worry about it any longer, thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Boston College in the opening round of the ACC Tournament on Sunday at Fetzer Field.
Was the three-game winless streak on Carolina players' minds?
"Absolutely," senior keeper Anna Sieloff said. "It's been a while since we've gotten this far in the tournament, so I'm really excited. At the beginning of the season we made it a goal to try to win the ACC championship, so this is a step in the right direction to achieving that."
The Heels' next step is Friday against No. 2 seed Florida State, 2-0 winners over Duke on Sunday, in the semifinals at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary.
"Some of the young girls, the freshmen, the sophomores, they don't really know what it feels like to be at this stage," said senior midfielder Crystal Dunn, who scored UNC's lone goal. "We're all excited, and it was a great win."
UNC coach Anson Dorrance downplayed the occasion, noting that the team lost in the first round last year before winning the national title - UNC's ultimate goal.
"Yeah, we want to win every game we can," Dorrance said. "We want to compete for conference championships. But we've certainly done that in the past and we are going to return to do that again, maybe as early as this year. But that's never a concern of mine."
The teams played their fourth consecutive 1-0 game, all won by UNC. Boston College is a tough, physical team, but the Heels matched the Eagles' aggression with their characteristic forward-thinking play. UNC launched 21 shots against Boston College keeper Alex Johnson and had several good chances to increase the score.
The Heels' goal was uncharacteristic, as it came on a header from Dunn, one of the shortest players on the field at 5-foot-2, at 39:10 in the first half. After a solid corner kick from Alexa Newfield, Megan Brigman headed the ball off the crossbar. The rebound came right to Dunn, who got enough of the ball to put it over the goal line.
"I saw the ball coming down, and I thought, 'Why not try to jump and get something on it,'" Dunn said. "I noticed no one was really going up with me, so I was like, 'Oh, OK, cool.'
"I didn't think it was a goal, so I was like, 'Aw, man, that would've been sick if it was a goal.' But the sideline ref held up his flag, and I was like, 'Yes!'"
UNC remained on the offensive in the second half, out-shooting Boston College 9-4 in the final 45 minutes. The offensive surge helped keep potent Eagles' forwards McKenzie Meehan – the ACC's leading scorer with 17 goals – and Stephanie McCaffrey in check. Each player could only manage one shot.
"They managed them well, especially when they dropped into a four-back situation," Boston College coach Alison Foley said. "I thought when it was three, I thought we'd get some chances. Once they went to four in the back, and one was always covering, it locked up our forwards a little bit. That system change to drop in four quieted down Stephi and Kenz a little bit."
NOTE – After rotating with Bryane Heaberlin most of the season, Sieloff played the entire game against Boston College. Sieloff, who gave up only one goal in ACC play this season, made five saves.
"It's been a battle all season," Sieloff said. "I kinda knew this game was going to be a turn point, so when he told me, I was really excited."