Florida State’s Madisyn Pezzino lined up for a corner kick with two minutes left in Sunday’s ACC Tournament Quarterfinal against North Carolina with a sunny skyline behind her.
In the direction she was preparing to serve the ball, though, there were dark clouds and the threat of more rain. As the Tar Heels prepared to defend the kick, clinging to a 2-1 lead, a dichotomy was clear.
Win, and No. 3 and ACC Tournament no. 2 seed North Carolina was headed to another ACC semifinal in hopes of continuing the winning tradition of college soccer’s most successful program.
Lose, and the Tar Heels suddenly face questions about failing to take home a conference title for the eighth consecutive time, continuing a postseason dry spell that includes four straight years without a national championship —a lifetime in Tar Heel years.
Pezzino’s corner never had a shot. It was deflected out of bounds for a Carolina goal kick.
Just like that, the Tar Heels moved past the Seminole team that had eliminated them the past two years en route to winning the last four ACC tournaments.
“For us to play them in the first round of the ACC Tournament is terrifying,” head coach Anson Dorrance said. “Obviously we feel very good to have beaten a fabulous program, and also to advance, and to still be alive, in the ACC.”
Hello, sunny skies.
Zoe Redei scored her first goal of the season, Taylor Otto converted a penalty kick, and the Tar Heels (13-2-2, 8-0-2 ACC) downed the Seminoles (11-6-1. 6-2-0 ACC) by a score of 2-1.
With the win, North Carolina advances to the semifinals of the tournament to face third-seeded N.C. State on Nov. 3 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Although Dorrance is one of the winningest coaches in collegiate sports history, with 21 national championships to his name, the postseason still scares him.
“You lose, you’re out,” he said. “The stress levels are a lot higher. I could feel my stress levels were a little bit higher on the bench today. I know my players could hear it in my voice when they’re making some, at times, poor decisions.
Freshman forward Alessia Russo echoed her coach’s sentiment. “This game, this postseason tournament now, if you lose, then you’re going home. That’s it,” Russo said. “I guess it does make every game a bit more exciting, but that’s just part of the fun of that.”
Russo may be having fun with these high-pressure times, but Dorrance could another week of stress. He will be busy preparing for the Wolfpack, a team North Carolina hasn’t played this year.
And after that?
A potential spot in the tournament finals, and then the NCAA Tournament. It only gets harder. On Sunday, though, the Tar Heels stared down those dark clouds on the horizon. And for now, it’s all sunny in Chapel Hill.
photo by Caleb Jones