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Grudge Match: UNC Women’s Soccer will play Florida State for the National Championship

It just had to be them...

NCAA Soccer: DI Women’s College Cup Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There was nothing that could prevent it. Not an overtime thriller against top-seeded Georgetown, not mighty Stanford’s 45-game unbeaten streak. Not any of the other teams in America. Here, at the the very end, it’s clear that it was destined that the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Florida State Seminoles would play for the National Championship of Women’s Soccer.

To appreciate the magnitude and intensity of this matchup, it’s important to understand where these teams are coming from. The North Carolina Tar Heels are college soccer royalty. Under Anson Dorrance, the program has practically written the sports’ history books. Their legacy is marked not only by the untouchable 21 National Championships that decorate their coffers, but also in the countless stars that have gone on to glory in both the US Women’s National Team and the NWSL. No school defines the growth of the women’s game more than the one from Chapel Hill.

But in recent years, much like the USWomen’s National Team, the Tar Heels have seen the rest of the field grow and strengthen. New champions have emerged, some of them historically dominant and dynamic. Just last night, the defending champion Stanford Cardinal suffered its first loss since the 2016 NCAA Tournamant, ending the longest unbeaten run any school has had other than the Heels. Five total schools have now won multiple national titles. On Sunday afternoon, a sixth will try and join those ranks.

That school is Florida State, a team the Tar Heels know all too well. Since the Tar Heels last won it all in 2012, Mark Krikorian’s Seminoles have been the best team in the ACC. They have won five of the last six ACC Tournaments. They have appeared in four of the last six College Cups. They won it all in 2014. For the first time in program history, there is a case to be made that North Carolina is second fiddle in the ACC, a statement that would have been unthinkable just ten years ago. For the first time in program history, North Carolina has a rival, not in proximity or enmity (though there may be some of that), but in mutual excellence.

That rivalry peaked this year. On September 14th, the Tar Heels came into Tallahassee and knocked off the Seminoles 1-0, applying the suffocating defense and possession-based attack that they have shown all year. This jump-started a perfect ACC regular season, in which the Heels went 10-0-0, trouncing all comers en route to an undisputed regular season title. On November 4th, the Seminoles took revenge: A thrilling 3-2 victory over the Tar Heels in the ACC title game evened the score: ACC Regular Season Champion Tar Heels and ACC Tournament Champion Seminoles.

Both teams cruised to the College Cup with relative ease. In a College Cup that has featured all 4 #1 seeds, the Tar Heels required an overtime winner from Julia Ashley to defeat Georgetown despite dominating the run of play, while the Seminoles knocked off the Cardinal 2-0 in dominant fashion themselves. And now here we are, facing a National Championship rubber match.

Two days ago, the All-American teams were released and on Sunday afternoon six newly dubbed All-Americans will take the field. UNC will have first-teamer Alessia Russo and third-teamers Taylor Otto and Julia Ashley (the hero of the National Semifinal). Florida State will counter with second-teamers Yujie Zhao and Deyna Castellanos, as well as third-teamer Natalia Kuikka. Zhao and Castellanos have formed a dominant one-two offensive punch during the season and Kuikka has led a stingy defense.

The two squads face off in Cary on Sunday at 1:00 pm ET. They will be playing for seasonal bragging rights, ACC supremacy, and, of course, a National Championship.