By R.L. Bynum
North Carolina was surprised when the NCAA women’s soccer selection committee gave the No. 4-ranked Notre Dame a No. 1 seed and the No. 2-ranked Tar Heels a No. 2 seed.
That meant that their quarterfinals meeting was in South Bend, Ind. But UNC proved that the seeding was flawed Saturday night by ousting the Irish 2–0 in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals to earn a record 31st trip to the College Cup and end their 12-game unbeaten streak.
Redshirt freshman forward Ally Sentnor tied a school record with her fifth NCAA tournament goal and was a force on defense as UNC (19–4–1) advanced to the College Cup for the first time since the 2020–21 season. Redshirt freshman goaltender Emmie Allen got her seventh shutout of the season with a career-high six saves.
Carolina will face No. 5-ranked and reigning NCAA champion Florida State (17–2–3) in a national semifinal in Cary at 6 p.m. (ESPNU). The No. 5 Seminoles, who beat the No. 9-ranked and No. 3-seed Razorbacks 1–0 Saturday night in Tallahassee, Fla., split a pair of 2–1 games with UNC this season, losing at FSU on Oct. 20 and beating the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament final on Nov. 6 in Cary.
The other semifinal at 8:30 will match two No. 1 seeds that eliminated ACC teams: No. 1-ranked UCLA (20–2–1) and No. 3-ranked Alabama (23–2–1). The Bruins, who won at UNC 2–1 on Sept. 4, ousted No. 11-ranked and No. 3-seed Virginia 2–1 in 2 OTs Saturday and the Crimson Tide beat No. 8-ranked and No. 2-seed Duke 3–2 on Friday.
UNC Coach Anson Dorrance still doesn’t understand the committee’s decision but said it provided plenty of motivation for his team, particularly after it was projected as a No. 1 seed entering the ACC tournament.
“I thought that was sort of curious,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t think anyone is being malicious, but I want to see the math. So, we went in with that chip on our shoulders. And we assembled every conceivable chip we could find and loaded them up on both of our shoulders when we came into this clash. So, rest assured, yes, that was one of them.”
Sentnor was a big reason the Tar Heels proved the committee wrong. She needed only four games to tie the NCAA tournament school record that Crystal Dunn set in 2012 over six games in leading UNC to the 2012 national championship.
“I think we came into this game having traveled to South Bend and we used that as motivation,” Sentnor said. “I think it didn’t really matter who’s the one seed, who’s the two seed, it just mattered who played the better game today.”
Carolina had the better of the play on a chilly night after the ACC teams didn’t meet during the regular season. The Heels ended Notre Dame’s season at 17–3–3 by playing six starters 90 minutes and a season-low four reserves.
“It was a big risk … We do press, and it put us in a position to be up 2–0,” Dorrance said of giving his starters such heavy minutes. “By the end of the game, we are absolutely exhausted.”
UNC’s mistakes and much-more physical play in the second half with four yellow cards (two for each team) led to more decent Notre Dame chances, but the Irish couldn’t convert. They got 12 of their 14 shots in the second half to tie UNC on shots for the game.
“Obviously, both want to win; it’s gonna be intense, there’s going to be a lot of pressure, it’s going to be tension on the field,” said Sentnor, who played 81 minutes. “But I think our team really just came together, really connected and went into every tackle with heart and pride. And I’m just really proud of this team because, even when it got chippy, even when it got really hard in the end, we really just came out on top.”
Sentnor headed in the first UNC goal in the 21st minute. She made the heads-up play to scramble and beat Notre Dame’s Korbin Albert to the ball. Libby Moore’s strong long-range shot went off the fingertips of Notre Dame goalkeeper Mackenzie Wood and deflected hard off the crossbar.
“Libby took an excellent shot,” said Sentnor, who couldn’t remember the last time she scored on a header. “She’d beat a player, drilled it off the crossbar. So, that was pretty much all her, and I was just there to get the rebound off the crossbar and headed in, thankfully.”
Talia Dellaperuta fired a shot at the top of the net and over Woods, making it 2–0 in the 47th minute for her fourth goal.
Dorrance called Albert the best player in the country this season. She leads Notre Dame with 16 goals and 37 points, but UNC held her to three shots. Her cross in the 79th minute created a terrific chance for Maddie Mercado, whose spinning shot went just over the crossbar.
“Our attitude is when we show someone respect, we just basically try to do everything we can to prevent them from taking the game over,” Dorrance said of Albert. “So, that was our measure of respect for this unbelievable player. But that’s not the only weapon for Notre Dame. Their back three are excellent. And we had to figure out a way to break them down.”
Dorrance praised his team for scoring two goals against Notre Dame, which he called one of the elite defenses in the country, and also for slowing down attacking players such as Albert and other prolific scorers.
NOTES — The closest team to Carolina’s 31 Women’s College Cups is Florida State, which advanced for the 13th time. … This is the 40th time in the 41 years of that the Women’s College Cup has included at least one ACC team. … It was UNC’s first road NCAA tournament game since defeating No. 1-seed BYU 2–1 in double overtime in 2012. … It was the first meeting with Notre Dame since the Tar Heels’ 2–1 double-overtime win in the 2021 regular-season home finale for Dorrance’s 900th victory. … Notre Dame was a No. 1 seed for the first time since 2008. … That was only the third time this season that Notre Dame has given up at least two goals. … UNC leads the all-time series 23–7–3 against Notre Dame, one of three schools with more than five wins against the Tar Heels (Florida State has 11 and Santa Clara six). The Tar Heels are 8–3 in NCAA tournament games against the Irish. … UNC is 17–4 this season when scoring first.
No. 2 UNC 2, No. 4 Notre Dame 0
Women’s College Cup
At games in Cary and on ESPNU
No. 2-ranked and No. 2-seed North Carolina (19–4–1) vs. No. 5-ranked and No. 1-seed Florida State (17–2–3), 6 p.m.
No. 3-ranked and No. 1-seed Alabama (23–2–1) vs. No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seed UCLA (20–2–1), 8:30
Monday, Dec. 12, 6 p.m.
|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 courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications