As much as two months ago it was obvious that North Carolina’s route to another ACC women’s soccer championship would run through Tallahassee, Fla.
The No. 1-ranked Tar Heels (11-0-1, 4-0 ACC) and No. 2 Seminoles (10-1-1, 3-0-1) will meet at noon Sunday at the Seminole Soccer Complex with first place in the ACC and the top spot in the national polls on the line.
So which is the hunter and which is the hunted? Take your pick. UNC is one of two unbeatens left in the nation. (The other is unranked Cornell at 8-0-3). The Tar Heels are the dominant team in women’s college soccer annals, owning 22 national championships, 21 ACC regular-season titles and 20 ACC tournament titles.
The Seminoles capped four consecutive trips to the College Cup with their first NCAA title last year and are challenging to become the first back-to-back champions since UNC did it in 2008-09. And FSU has had the upper hand in the series lately, with four wins and a tie since UNC last beat the Seminoles in 2011. Last year the teams tied 1-1 at Chapel Hill.
“Florida State will present us will all kinds of challenges,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “The thing I appreciate about a game of this caliber is they will show us where we can be exposed, and our job is to correct it. We’re certainly looking forward to it, because there’s nothing better than playing against an elite team if you’ve done enough work to be competitive with them.”
The Seminoles blend experience and youth, sophisticated international players and athletic Americans. Senior forward Cheyna Williams, the former Vanderbilt transfer, has worlds of speed up front. Senior midfielder Isabella Schmid from Germany runs the show, and senior defender Megan Campbell from Ireland makes every restart dangerous with the longest throw-ins in women’s soccer. Freshman midfielder Megan Connolly, also from Ireland, leads the ACC in assists.
“Hopefully we’re going to present some problems,” Dorrance said. “My team this year is better than last year. And we tied them last year, when they won the national championship.”
A big concern is how much leading scorer Alexa Newfield will play for the Tar Heels. Because Newfield has had three knee surgeries during her six-year college career, Dorrance has had to marshal her minutes zealously. So a key factor might develop Thursday night, when FSU hosts N.C. State (4-8, 0-3) and UNC visits Louisville (6-5-1, 2-2). Which team gets through easier might have the upper hand in the short turnaround for Sunday’s showdown.
Wolfpack reunion: Members of the 1990 N.C. State men’s soccer team held a reunion last weekend to commemorate the 25th anniversary of their appearance in the College Cup. Approximately 17 members of the team gathered in honor of the Wolfpack’s only appearance in college soccer’s final four.
“There are a handful of us in the area,” said Henry Gutierrez, who was the 1990 ACC player of the year and today is a regional director and coach for the Triangle Futbol Club. “We kind of get together and reminisce. But I’ve seen guys this weekend I haven’t seen since we left here 25 years ago.”
Gutierrez said the former players, who watched the Wolfpack tie national power Notre Dame 1-1 on Sunday, are encouraged by the direction of the program under fifth-year coach Kelly Findley.
Three of Gutierrez’s recent TFC standouts have played major roles for the Wolfpack. Sophomore forward Ade Taiwo and sophomore midfielder Cameron Steele are starters this season. Last year, then-freshman Conor Donovan was a starting defender before being drafted by Orlando City of Major League Soccer.
“It’s good to see they’re doing well and contributing to the program,” Gutierrez said.
Too little, too late: A recruiting oversight three years ago cost Notre Dame last week. The Irish women, ranked as high as No. 4 in one national poll at the time, fell 1-0 in double overtime at Miami on Friday night. Miami’s golden goal was scored by junior midfielder Gracie Lachowecki of Evansville, Ind. Her older brother Max is a starting defender at Notre Dame.
Max Lachowecki said his sister grew up wanting to follow him to Notre Dame, but she didn’t get an offer from the Irish until after she had committed to Miami. He said Sunday, following his Irish men’s 1-1 tie at N.C. State, that he told her to stick with the Canes.
Max said he and his sister will stage their own reunion next week at Virginia Tech. The Notre Dame men visit there Oct. 16, with the Miami women playing the following night.
NWSL update: FC Kansas City captured the NWSL championship last week, beating the Seattle Reign 1-0 and giving four members of the USA champion Women’s World Cup team, including UNC alum Heather O’Reilly, a notable double this year.
KC’s goal was scored by Amy Rodriguez, on an assist from O’Reilly. The third and fourth members of the World Cup team playing for KC were Becky Sauerbrunn and Lauren Holiday. Seattle featured USA stalwarts Megan Rapinoe and Hope Solo.
Game of the week: In addition to the UNC-Florida State showdown in women’s soccer, N.C. State (6-2-2, 1-1-2) (No. 22, TopDrawerSoccer.com) hosts No. 6 Wake Forest at 7 p.m. Friday in the top ACC men’s game this week.