North Carolina heads to national semifinals for fifth year in a row
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- For the fifth year in a row and the 18th time in program history, third-seeded North Carolina has earned a spot in the national semifinals. The Tar Heels defeated Wake Forest 5-2 on Sunday in an NCAA tournament second-round game at Francis E. Henry Stadium to advance to the NCAA semifinals. Carolina will face Connecticut on Friday in Norfolk, Va., on the campus of Old Dominion.
The Tar Heels are now 18-5, while the Demon Deacons finished their season at 12-9. UNC is one of three Atlantic Coast Conference teams to make the semifinals, along with top-seeded Maryland and fourth-seeded Duke. UConn advanced by beating Michigan State, which scored a first-round upset against second-seeded Syracuse, the fourth ACC team hosting first- and second-round games this weekend.
"I'm excited for our Tar Heels to be going to the final four," UNC coach Karen Shelton said, who is in her 33rd year with the program and has coached the Tar Heels to six NCAA crowns. "It never ever gets old and it's never easy to get there."
Sunday's game was the third meeting of the season for UNC and Wake Forest. Carolina had won the previous two 4-2 in the regular season and 3-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament quarterfinals just more than a week ago -- but it was Wake that got out front first on Sunday, just 1:50 into the game. The Demon Deacons drove into the circle, where UNC keeper Sassi Ammer saved the first shot, by Kari Walkley. But Taylor Rhea gathered the rebound and got the ball past Ammer to put WFU up 1-0.
The visitors held the lead until the ninth minute of play. On UNC's third penalty corner of the game, sophomore Nina Notman tied the score with her 14th goal of the season, assisted by sophomore Emily Wold and graduate student Janne Grove.
The game stayed knotted at 1-1 for about 22 minutes, but in the 31st minute Notman struck again with the game winner. On a penalty corner, UNC's initial shot was saved, but Notman grabbed the rebound on the right side and put it back for a lead Carolina would never give up.
The 2-1 advantage held until the 46th minute of play, when Notman sent a hard ball into the circle and freshman Lauren Moyer got a quick deflection in front of the goal to put UNC up 3-1. Just more than three minutes later the Tar Heels struck again, using sharp passing and teamwork. On the run, sophomore Casey Di Nardo passed the ball to junior Charlotte Craddock, who gave it right back and put Di Nardo in perfect position to score her 14th goal of the season.
With the Tar Heels up 4-1, Wake drew its first penalty corner of the game in the 56th minute. Jess McFadyen deflected in a shot from Anna Kozniuk to draw the Demon Deacons within two, and Wake immediately called a timeout. Less than a minute after the restart, however, UNC struck again to make it 5-2. Craddock got a pass from Wold at the right side of the cage and fired a shot just inside the left post for her 12th goal of the season and fourth of the weekend.
"There were some stellar goals out there today," Shelton said. "I'm thrilled and relieved to be going to another final four."
On the day, UNC had 33 shots and Wake Forest keeper Valerie Dahmen made a career-high 19 saves.
The Tar Heels and Huskies have already met on the L.R. Hill Sports Complex turf this season, in a neutral-side matchup on Oct. 26, which UNC won 2-1.