By R.L. Bynum
CARY — North Carolina loosened its stranglehold on ACC women’s soccer last season and with a couple of league losses earlier this season.
The No. 2-ranked Tar Heels are one win away from regaining their traditional dominant spot. But Duke didn’t make it easy in the ACC tournament semifinals Thursday evening in a match full of tension, physical play and frustration on both sides.
No. 1-seed UNC finally knocked off rival Duke 7–6 on penalty kicks after 110 scoreless minutes, including two overtimes, to advance. Emily Moxley rocketed a shot to the right of diving Duke goalkeeper Ruthie Jones after UNC keeper Emmie Allen made a huge save on the Blue Devils’ last PK try.
That set off a celebration of both joy and relief.
“I’m incredibly proud of my team where we are and the fact we advanced, but I’m also very excited about our potential No. 1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament,” said UNC coach Anson Dorrance, who was happy to advance but hates deciding games on PKs. “So, when you put all those pieces together, I’m very proud of these resilient kids.”
The Tar Heels will seek their 23rd ACC tournament title against either Florida State (4–2 winner of another penalty kick shootout after tying Notre Dame 3–3 in the second semifinal) in Sunday’s noon championship (ESPNU) one year after failing to qualify for the event for the first time in program history.
It seemed possible that might happen again after losses to Virginia (3–2 on Sept. 17) and Virginia Tech (2–1 on Oct. 1), but the Tar Heels (15–3–1) are unbeaten in their last seven games with six wins since that loss to the Hokies. Allen is a big reason because she’s given up one goal during that win streak.
UNC faced only one penalty kick in the entire regular season, and Allen never was part of a game decided on PKs during her high school career. But in her first game facing that sort of pressure, the redshirt freshman coolly stopped two PK shots, easily getting in front of MacKenzie Pluck’s shot to give Moxley a chance to win the game.
“Honestly, when PKs came, all the pressure went away,” said Allen, who only had to make three saves in 110 minutes to get her sixth shutout of the season. “We practice them all the time in practice. I redshirted last year; when we practiced them last year, getting ready for the tournament, I was the goalie that was in there the majority of the time. So, I’ve taken tons and tons of PKs in practice.”
Some of those practice sessions go better than others. Allen said she didn’t defend PKs that well in practice on Wednesday. It was one of those days that Allen said make her “so mad” because her teammates seemed to score on every try. But she made the two she needed against the Blue Devils.
Moxley gets daily PK practice taking shots against Allen, which probably helped.
“We practice to both sides, so you can shoot to either side,” Moxley said. “I did feel the pressure, but I just went up there, and I picked a side and that’s what happened.”
Moxley’s goal followed PK goals by Tori Hanson (who is five-for-five on the season), Rachel Jones, Ally Sentnor, Avery Patterson, Tessa Dellarose and Ruby Grant.
Ninety minutes of domination weren’t enough for Carolina to advance, despite outshooting Duke 18–3 with an 8–1 advantage in shots on goal and an 11–2 edge in corners.
Unlike in Carolina’s 3–0 non-conference victory at Duke on Sept. 8, the Blue Devils played back on their end, making it challenging for the Tar Heels to get quality chances.
“It’s very difficult to break down,” Dorrance said. “You have to have incredibly sophisticated players making exquisite decisions consistently with incredible execution to break down a defense. And we basically failed to, and I give Duke nothing but full credit for their game plan.”
Jones, sister of Giants and former Duke quarterback Daniel Jones, made a career-high 10 saves and survived Patterson firing a shot in the 109th minute off the post in UNC’s best chance during the overtimes. Allen made a nice save on a Sophie Jones shot in the 110th minute.
“We did have some opportunities,” Dorrance said. “But, obviously, the most difficult thing in our game is to score goals. So, we didn’t finish. And I’m just so glad that the soccer gods rewarded us by having us advance.”
Duke midfielder Maggie Graham saluted the Tar Heels, but not in a good way. After she took down UNC’s Talia Dellaperuta in the last minute of the first half, she gave her two middle-finger salutes.
With that, Graham was done, and the Blue Devils (12–4–3) were a player down. But Dellaperuta, whose retaliatory shove drew a yellow card on that play, exited after taking down Duke defender Katie Groff and getting her second yellow card in the 72nd minute to make the sides even again.
“I think we certainly had the run of the play when it was 11 v 11,” Dorrance said. “And then when we went up a player, obviously, we’re going to continue to have even more of the run, which we did. And then once it was level again, we still basically, I thought controlled the game.”
NOTES — It was the first time in tournament history that both semifinals were decided with a penalty kick shootout. … That was the first time Carolina has been shut out this season. … UNC moved to 2–3 in penalty kicks shootout in the ACC tournament, and Duke fell to 2–2. … Carolina is 13–0 against Duke all-time in the ACC tournament, including 7–0 in the semifinals and 72–7–5 overall in the event. … UNC, 27–4–2 in Cary, has won six of the 15 ACC tournaments played in Cary (2003, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2019). … Maycee Bell, Isabel Cox, Julia Dorsey, Rachel Jones and Maggie Pierce were on the 2019 championship team. … On Sunday, UNC won a share of its 25th ACC regular-season title and will seek its first ACC tournament title since 2019. … Defender Abby Allen, who suffered a knee bruise in the regular-season-ending win at Louisville, is out for at least a couple of weeks. .… Midfielder Sam Meza was back in the UNC lineup after missing the last two regular-season games. … Fans were confined to the side of the stadium behind the benches to make crowd shots look better on television.
No. 2 UNC 0, No. 8 Duke 0
Carolina advances 7–6 on penalty kicks
Penalty kick shootout results
Last Sunday’s first round at school sites
No. 3-seed Notre Dame 1, No. 7 Pittsburgh 1 (2 OTs; Irish advance 5–4 on PKs)
No. 5 Duke 2, No. 4 Virginia 1
Thursday’s semifinals in Cary
No. 1 North Carolina 0, No. 5 Duke 0 (2 OTs; Tar Heels advance 7–6 on PKs)
No. 2 Florida State 3, No. 3 Notre Dame 3 (2 OTs; Seminoles advance 4–2 on PKs)
Sunday’s championship in Cary
No. 1 North Carolina (15–3–1) vs. No. 2 Florida State (12–2–3), noon, ESPNU
|25||Thursday||W, 2–0||Texas||Austin, Texas||3–0–0|
|28||Sunday||W, 6–0||Baylor||Austin, Texas||4–0–0|
|1||Thursday||W, 3–1||Missouri||Columbia, Mo.||5–0–0|
|4||Sunday||L, 2–1||No. 1 UCLA||Home||5–1–0|
|8||Thursday||W, 3–0||X-No. 8 Duke||Durham||6–1–0|
|11||Sunday||W, 2–1||Central Florida||Home||7–1–0|
|17||Saturday||L, 3–2||No. 11 Virginia||Home||7–2–0,|
|22||Thursday||W, 1–0||Syracuse||Syracuse, N.Y.||8–2–0,|
|25||Sunday||W, 3–0||Boston College||Home||9–2–0,|
|1||Saturday||L, 2–1||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||9–3–0,|
|6||Thursday||W, 4–0||No. 19 Pittsburgh||Home||10–3–0,|
|9||Sunday||W, 2–0||N.C. State||Home||11–3–0,|
|14||Friday||W, 1–0||Wake Forest||Home||12–3–0,|
|20||Thursday||W, 2–1||No. 5 |
|23||Sunday||W, 4–0||Miami||Coral Gables, Fla.||14–3–0,|
|27||Thursday||W, 1–0||Louisville||Louisville, Ky.||15–3–0,|
|3||Thursday||T, 0–0, 2 OTs (UNC advances 7–6 on PKs)||Semifinal vs. |
No. 8 Duke
|6||Sunday||L, 2–1||Final vs. No. 5 Florida State||Cary||15–4–1|
|12||Saturday||W, 5–0||First round: |
|17||Thursday||W, 3–1||Second round: Georgia||Chapel Hill||17–4–1|
|19||Saturday||W, 3–2||Third round: |
No. 15 BYU
|South Bend, Ind.||19–4–1|
|2||Friday||W, 3–2||Semifinals: No. 5 Florida State||Cary||20–4–1|
|5||Monday||L, 3–2, 2 OTs||Championship: No. 1 UCLA||Cary||20–5–1|
Photo by Jaylynn Nash courtesy of the ACC