CARY, N.C. — Virginia’s unbeaten run in women’s soccer ended in the ACC Tournament final Sunday.
Whether the Cavaliers can get back on the winning track in the NCAA Tournament may depend upon how they cope with yet another key injury.
Alessia Russo powered home a golden goal less than two minutes into the second overtime period, lifting top-seeded North Carolina to a 2-1 victory over the third-seeded Cavaliers in Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Russo, the tournament MVP, scored her third goal of the weekend for UNC (19-1-1) after netting two in a 3-0 semifinal win over N.C. State.
“First of all, congrats to North Carolina,” said UVa coach Steve Swanson, whose Cavaliers had beaten second-seeded Florida State 2-1 in overtime Friday. “They are an excellent, hard-working team and a worthy champion.
“I thought our team battled all day, and all weekend for that matter, and we are really proud of the effort they put in today. There’s not much separating these two teams, and I think the winners were the fans who got to see a very hard and well-played game. We are looking forward to the rest of the postseason, and I am confident we will take this experience and use it to our advantage.”
NCAA Tournament bids will be announced at 4:30 p.m. Monday, and UNC, UVa, and Florida State all could be No. 1 seeds.
The Cavaliers (16-1-3) battled back from the early deficit and nearly pulled out the victory in the first overtime. Five minutes into extra time Rebecca Jarrett’s shot from the 18-yard line glanced off a UNC defender, hit the right post, and rolled out of bounds. It was only the fourth shot of the day for UVa, which was outshot 16-4 and withstood a 10-1 disadvantage on corner kicks.
UNC ended it at the 101:48 mark of the second overtime when Emily Fox found Russo on the right flank with a looping pass. Russo controlled the ball between two UVa defenders and got off a low shot from 16 yards that beat Moran into the left corner.
UNC, which claimed its 22nd ACC Tournament title, defeated a No. 1-ranked team for the first time since 2012, when the Tar Heels beat Stanford in the NCAA semifinals en route to their most recent NCAA championship. Third-ranked UNC also denied the Cavaliers, who last won the ACC Tournament in 2012, their third ACC crown in their seventh appearance in the final.
Much as they did in their semifinal win, UNC struck for an early goal on a corner kick and rode it out for a 1-0 halftime lead.
Freshman defender Maycee Bell, the ACC Freshman of the Year, got on the end of Lotte Wubben-Moy’s corner and headed home her second goal of the year at the 5:40 mark.
UVa nearly equalized on its first shot of the match. Jarrett slipped a pass into the penalty area for Meghan McCool, but UNC goalkeeper Claudia Dickey got an arm up and deflected the shot from 15 yards, then smothered the rebound. It was the only save Dickey recorded on the afternoon.
That’s the way it stayed until midway in the second half, when UVa equalized with its only shot of the second half. UVa freshman defender Talia Staude took a free kick from 35 yards out, and Bell headed it out of the goalmouth. But UVa forward Diana Ordonez pounced on the loose ball and rocketed home a shot from the right side for her 14th goal of the season. It was the first goal allowed by Dickey, the NCAA leader in goals-against average, since Sept. 15.
The match took another turn in the 85th minute. The Tar Heels recycled a corner kick back into the penalty area, but as UVa goalkeeper Laurel Ivory came off her line to make the catch, she collided with UNC midfielder Brianna Pinto and went down hard. No foul was called, and Ivory had to be helped off the field. She was replaced in goal by Michaela Moran, who made a last-minute save on a Bell header off a corner kick to send the match into overtime. Ivory recorded three saves on the day, while Moran had one.
Swanson said the collision was “a bang-bang play” and didn’t think a foul or card was warranted because there was no malicious intent. He added that Ivory would undergo concussion protocol and have a CT scan when she returned to Charlottesville.
UVa was already without outside backs Courtney Peterson and Claire Constant for the weekend. As a result, Swanson changed up his formation from his customary 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2, adding redshirt junior Alissa Gorzak to the midfield to provide more attacking possibilities and offset the Tar Heels’ numerical advantage there.
Joining Russo on the all-tournament team were UNC teammates Bell, Dickey, Fox, and Wubben-Moy. Jarrett, Ordonez, midfielder Alexa Spaanstra, and center back Zoe Morse represented UVa, with forwards Deyna Castellanos of Florida State and Tziarra King of N.C. State completing the team.