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UNC Soccer: Tar Heel women and men both advance to the College Cup

There are only four teams each left in the soccer NCAA Tournaments, and both Tar Heel squads are among them.

2019 NCAA Women’s College Cup - Championship

After UNC field hockey added a national championship to the tally on Sunday, focus now turns to the soccer teams, who were both in action over the weekend. Thanks to wins in the Elite Eight, both the men and women are headed back to the College Cup, doing it in very different ways to get there.

After dispatching Denver and Washington, the UNC women faced their highest ranked opposition so far in #7 overall seed Texas A&M. The Aggies gave the Heels a test, but in the end, Carolina came away with a 1-0 victory and are headed back to the College Cup.

Both teams had shots saved early on, but A&M had the biggest early chance, only for UNC goalkeeper Claudia Dickey to make a much needed save to keep the Aggies off the board. Then late in the first half, Rachael Dorwart slotted home to cap off a Heels counterattack and put Carolina up 1-0.

Dickey made one more save in the second half, but the Aggies wouldn’t get another shot off after the 71 minute mark, as the Heels sealed the win. That means, UNC still has not allowed a goal since the resumption of the spring season back in March.

Next up for UNC will be #11 overall seed Santa Clara. The Broncos upset #6 Arkansas in the Sweet 16 and then beat #14 Clemson, who had upset #3 UCLA, to advance to the College Cup.

Santa Clara, who beat UNC in the national championship game in 2001, are making their first College Cup appearance since 2004. They’ve suffered just one loss this season, to BYU back in March. Goalkeeper Marlee Nicolos was called on to make six saves in a narrow 1-0 win over Clemson. However, both of their other NCAA Tournament wins came by multi-goal margins.

As the higher seed, UNC will go in as favorites, but Santa Clara has already shown the ability to knock off seeded teams in the tournament so far. The game will be played Thursday night at around 8:30 PM ET. It can be seen on ESPN2.

As the women have gone through without conceding a goal, the men have been in several thrillers, but are still marching onto the next round.

Their quarterfinal opponent was the #5 overall seed Wake Forest, who have been tormentors for Carolina in recent years. The Heels hadn’t beaten the Demon Deacons since UNC’s 2011 national championship season, and all the losses in that time have been by just one goal. That included an extra time 1-0 loss back in the fall.

Well that changed on Monday night with a 2-1 win, and now the men are headed to their first College Cup since 2017.

The Tar Heels had their run of things early, taking the first four shots of the game. However, Wake broke through and opened the scored with a 10th minute goal by Kyle Holcomb. It wasn’t very long before the answer came as less than a minute later, Giovanni Montesdeoca pounced on a loose ball in the box to even things up.

A lighting delay interrupted play late in the first half, and things went into the break even. The teams traded chances to start the second half before Santiago Herrera broke through and put home a ball deflected by a free kick wall in the 68th minute to put the Heels in front. As Wake attempted to search for an equalizer, UNC’s task became tougher when Akeim Clarke received two yellow cards and was sent off. Carolina had to play down a minute for the dying minutes, but Alec Smir and the defense held the Deacons at bay to clinch the win.

Things are now even more interesting as upsets on UNC’s side of the bracket have broken things open. The Heels’ next opponent will be Marshall, who are in their first College Cup ever in just their second ever NCAA Tournament.

While Carolina have now taken out the #4 and #5 overall seeds, the Thundering Herd have beaten both #1 overall Clemson and the reigning champion #8 Georgetown. Marshall clearly should be taken seriously considering who they’ve beat, but this is a golden chance for the Heels to advance to the championship game for the first time since they won it in 2011.

That game will be held on Friday and will air on ESPNU.