CHARLESTON, S.C. (theACC.com) – Sunday afternoon’s script seemed quite familiar, and that suited Florida State and head coach Mark Krikorian just fine.
The sixth-seeded Seminoles left MUSC Health Stadium with the Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Soccer Championship title for the fourth consecutive year and the fifth time in six seasons, outlasting fourth-seeded North Carolina, 4-3, on penalty kicks after the teams battled to a scoreless draw through regulation and two overtimes.
For the second straight year, defender Natalia Kuikka was voted the tournament MVP and goalkeeper Cassie Miller made big plays with the outcome hanging in the balance.
“It was a very competitive match, a lot of physical play and a lot of battling,” Krikorian said. “Overall, I am quite pleased with our young group and all that they accomplished in winning this tournament.”
The outcome left both teams at 13-3-4 and in position for what should be a high seed when NCAA Championship selections are announced Monday at 4:30 p.m.
“I have no idea where we might be seeded, but I’m not even looking at that right now,” Krikorian said. “We’ll trust the NCAA committee, and whatever decisions they make will probably be the right ones.”
UNC fell just short in its bid to capture its 21st ACC Championship title but its first since 2009.
“I want to congratulate Florida State,” Tar Heel head coach Anson Dorrance said. “This is starting to become a habit for them. Winning this event four years in a row is not an easy thing to do in this league, and I tip my hat to Mark and his staff.”
Each side made its first two attempts of the penalty kick phase before Miller made a good read to stop UNC’s third attempt by Abby Elinsky, and Megan Connolly converted her try to give Florida State a 3-2 edge.
Then, after a trade of successful PKs in round four left the Seminoles up 4-3, Miller dove to her left to deflect UNC freshman Bridgette Andrzejewski’s attempt and seal the verdict in FSU’s favor. Of the Seminoles’ five ACC titles since 2011, three have been decided on penalty kicks.
“Cassie has good instincts,” Krikorian said. “When you get in that situation, it is good to see all the training she has done and all those drills pay off.”
UNC nearly struck for a goal just seven minutes into the match when Elinksy headed in a long pass from Julia Ashley, but an offsides penalty nullified the would-be goal.
The half then evolved into a total defensive struggle until the fading seconds, when Florida State freshman Taylor Hallmon slipped inside the box, controlled a deflected ball and lined a well-placed shot that had a chance of finding the upper half of the goal. But UNC keeper Lindsey Harris reached high and made the deflection to leave the match scoreless at the half.
Hallmon’s shot was the only one the Seminoles attempted in the first half. But they matched the Tar Heels, who were credited with only one official attempt as well.
The second half of play failed to produce the 2016 ACC champion, as scoring chances remained sparse. UNC held a 6-4 edge in total shots at the end of regulation, and both teams were credited with two shots on goal.
“We wanted the game to stay compacted, and we wanted to try and limit their chances,” Kuikka said in summing up the Seminoles’ game plan against UNC, which entered the match on a five-game winning streak that included a 1-0 victory over Florida State on Oct. 27 in Chapel Hill.
Attacking much more aggressively, Florida State forged two serious threats in the first six minutes of the first overtime, but UNC’s Harris repelled a shot by Emma Koivisto with 6:05 remaining and smothered Kristen McFarland’s close-range attempt with 4:15 to play.
The Seminoles also had a prime chance in the closing seconds of the second overtime period, but McFarland had a shot blocked and Harris pulled down Kuikka’s corner kick to force the game to penalty kicks.
“Florida State is a tough team to break down, and we really couldn’t do that over the course of the match and so unfortunately it came down the penalty kick phase,” Dorrance said. “But I’m not embarrassed by the way we played today. In fact, I’m quite pleased with it.”
The 2016 ACC Women’s Soccer Championship All-Tournament Team: