Last Updated 4:49 PM, October 21, 2022

No. 2 North Carolina holds off No. 4 Florida State to take share of 1st place in ACC

College soccer storylines and postseason predictions
PathCreated with Sketch. PINNED
2:01 am, October 21, 2022

UNC hangs on to defeat FSU

UNC women's soccer celebration

For once this year, it was the Tar Heels on the right side of a comeback effort. After blowing a lead in each of their three losses this season, UNC rallied after an early FSU goal to win 2-1 in Tallahassee on Thursday.

A late-season trip to the defending national champions is tough as is, and when the Heels found themselves trailing within five minutes (Onyi Echegini's seventh goal of the year), the task looked even taller. North Carolina spent much of the first half trying to establish their normal offense, one centered on possession and patient buildup.

They ended up finding the answer by changing the way they played. Ally Sentnor started running straight at the FSU defense and created both of the Heels' scoring chances (winning a penalty that Tori Hansen cashed in and scoring the game-winner, her fourth of the season). For UNC, the win moves them into a share of first place in the conference standings with FSU and No. 5 Notre Dame.

For the Noles, it's just their second loss of the season and far from time to panic, but it showed how vulnerable their backline can be when the opposition attacks directly. Both goals tonight and the four conceded against Notre Dame have come in similar fashion, certainly something for coach Brian Pensky to work on with his team before postseason play starts. Also of note: It's the first loss in the career of FSU goalkeeper Cristina Roque (she was previously 33-0-8).

And for us spectators, the ACC is the conference that keeps on giving. North Carolina's win over Florida State means that with just two games remaining in the regular season, there are five teams within just two points of first place and a regular-season championship with a couple of head-to-head matchups still to come in the final week.

Full-time stats:

UNC-FSU women's soccer full-time stats
1:26 am, October 21, 2022

UNC leads through Sentnor

GOAL 58' North Carolina 2-1 Florida State: Ally Sentnor finishes her own dribble this time! Direct play pays off yet again for the Heels. She won a 50-50 after a long ball, then challenged the FSU defense to knock her off the ball before cutting in on her favored left foot and lashing one into the top right corner of Cristina Roque's net. 

This comes just minutes after the Noles nearly took the lead thanks to great pressing from Beata Olsson. The Seminoles have created more than UNC up to this point, now it's just a matter of cashing in their opportunities.

12:51 am, October 21, 2022

Score all even at halftime

This game has the feel of a high-stakes final at the moment. Neither team is taking too many chances and it seems like they were both content to feel each other out. The last 15 minutes or so featured more offense than the first half hour.

Both teams took advantage of their first sight at goal — FSU through Ochegini and UNC via a Sentnor shot that resulted in a penalty kick. As detailed in my deep dive preview, the Noles found success in opening space to attack through the middle where Nighswonger could operate and create. She played the decisive ball in for the Noles' opener.

The Heels' meanwhile, kept looking for deep runs in wide areas to send in their trademark low crosses, but FSU was prepared. It took the Heels playing a bit more direct on the break for them to find a breakthrough.

Here are the stats at halftime:

UNC-FSU women's soccer halftime stats
12:39 am, October 21, 2022

UNC equalizes from the penalty spot

GOAL 32' North Carolina 1-1 Florida State: Tori Hansen dispatches UNC's first goal from the penalty spot after an FSU handball in the area. It's her sixth goal of the season and fourth from 12 yards for the center-back.

North Carolina attacked the Noles on a quick counter and took advantage of a retreating FSU backline. Ally Sentnor blasted one directly into a defender who was ruled to have handled the ball. Sentnor's attempt was the Heels' first shot on goal. They haven't been able to muster much offense, but like the Noles, they took the first chance they got to score.

12:11 am, October 21, 2022

Seminoles take early lead through Echegini

GOAL 5' North Carolina 0-1 Florida State: The Noles are up within five minutes of this showdown! Onyi Echegini scores her team-high seventh goal of the season, fed through the middle by Jenna Nighswonger, who tallies her 11th assist of the campaign.

9:16 pm, October 20, 2022

How to watch UNC vs. FSU women's soccer

UNC women's soccer Libby Moore playing a pass vs. DukeThe Tar Heels have won two straight games in Tallahassee, but the Noles have won three of the last five games in the series.
  • Who: No. 2 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Florida State
  • Where: Seminole Soccer Complex in Tallahassee, Florida
  • When: 8 p.m. ET
  • How to watch: ACC Network
8:12 pm, October 20, 2022

North Carolina vs. Florida State, previewed

Jenna Nighswonger takes a corner kick for Florida State women's soccerFSU's Jenna Nighswonger leads the ACC in assists this season with 10.

This is a matchup that could have huge implications on seeding for the ACC tournament and where each team ranks come championship selections on Nov. 7. This will be the 46th meeting between the Seminoles and the Tar Heels, a series in which North Carolina leads 29-11-5, though FSU has won nine of the last 17 games. In 2021, these teams played to a 2-2 double-overtime tie in Chapel Hill, with UNC’s Isabel Cox and FSU’s Beata Olsson trading goals in that one. Both players return this year, as Olsson has five goals in 13 starts while Cox has scored just once in her 15 appearances (seven starts).

FSU currently holds first place in the conference standings, just three points ahead of No. 5 Notre Dame and UNC. A win for the Heels would mean a share of first-place. At 3.08 goals per game, the Noles boast the second-most potent offense in DI women's soccer, led in scoring by Jody Brown and Onyi Echegini, each with six goals this season. Jenna Nighswonger leads with 10 assists, pulling the threads of an offense that has outscored opponents 40-9 this season.

The Heels aren't far behind in offensive output with a goals-scored average of 2.40. Avery Patterson has scored eight goals this season as the most prolific forward in UNC's deep attacking core. Holding FSU scoreless will be a tall task, but it bodes well for UNC. In its last five wins, North Carolina has not allowed a single goal. 

It should surprise no one that the Heels and Noles, as two of the most dominant teams in this sport, like to control possession and dictate play themselves. Each play in a base 4-3-3 formation, but the creativity and attacking dynamism come from different parts of the field. North Carolina tends to focus its attacks in the wide areas, asking its wide players to win one-on-ones and create space for a cross into the central area. By contrast, one thing I noticed about FSU attacks is the variation. While they certainly can create chances from wide areas, I was impressed with the Noles' ability to play through the middle. 

For a more in-depth breakdown of how each team likes to attack and how their defenses could be exposed, click or tap here.

8:10 pm, October 20, 2022

Both UNC and FSU ranked in committee's top 10

The NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Committee has revealed its ranking of the top 10 teams. Both the Tar Heels and Seminoles cracked the top five. Click or tap here for a full breakdown of the committee's breakdown of its rankings.

NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer Committee Top 10 ranking
 (record through games on October 13)
1 UCLA 13-0-0
2 North Carolina 11-3-0
3 Notre Dame 11-2-0
4 Alabama 13-1-1
5 Florida State 10-1-2
6 Virginia 10-2-3
7 Duke 10-4-0
8 Arkansas 10-2-1
9 Pittsburgh 11-3-0
10 Northwestern 12-1-2


Under Consideration (alphabetical order): Penn St. (9-3-2) and South Carolina (9-2-3)