Goals by junior Alessia Russo and freshman Alexis Strickland rallied the second-ranked University of North Carolina women’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Washington State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals Friday night at Avaya Stadium.
For the second straight game, the Tar Heels conceded first as Morgan Weaver put the Cougars up in the seventh minute of the game. The Tar Heels had also given up the first goal in last Friday’s NCAA Tournament quarterfinal victory over USC, which Carolina eventually won by a 3-2 score.
But Carolina regained its composure and rallied from behind on goals by Alessia Russo in the 24th minute and the eventual game-winner by Alexis Strickland in the 38th minute of play.
Carolina improved to 24-1-1 on the season with the victory while Washington State’s Cinderella campaign ended with a record of 16-7-1.
The Tar Heels advance to the 2019 NCAA championship game for the 26th time in school history and they will play Stanford on Sunday at 8:30 p.m. at Avaya Stadium. The national championship game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.
Overall, the Cougars outshot the Tar Heels 10-8 in the game, just the second time this season Carolina had been outshot in a game. The other occasion was against Florida State in a 2-0 victory at Dorrance Field on Oct. 24. The Seminoles had outshot the Tar Heels 14-11 in that match. Carolina also conceded more corner kicks for only the second time this season as the Cougars had seven corner kicks to just two for Carolina. Virginia Tech was the only other squad this year to have an advantage in corner kicks. The Hokies had a 7-3 margin in that game on Oct. 27.
The Cougars were whistled for 15 fouls while Carolina committed 11.
Neither goalkeeper made a save in the first half but they combined for five saves in the second half. Ella Dederick had two saves in the game for Washington State while Claudia Dickey made three for Carolina, all in a key stretch in the second half as the Tar Heels held off the Cougars and persevered for the win.
The Tar Heels had the first two shots of the game with Bridgette Andrzejewski sending a shot from the top of the box high with 42:46 left in the opening 45 minutes. Just 48 seconds later, Alessia Russo had a shot from the top of the box on the left side that she tried to curl inside the upper right corner, just missing the frame.
Washington State would capitalize and take the lead 1-0 with 38:23 left in the half as Morgan Weaver scored on a counter-attack. The Cougar forward was able to pounce on a loose ball on the right side of the top of the box and one-time a shot inside the far post that eluded Tar Heel goalkeeper Claudia Dickey for her 15th goal of the season. Weaver had a decent opportunity to put the Cougars up 2-0 with 32:05 left in the half as she got free on the left side of the penalty area but pushed her shot wide of the left post.
Carolina would eventually get its offensive act revved up as Alessia Russo tied the game with 21:42 left in the first half. Midfielder Taylor Otto chipped a ball from 30 yards out over the defensive wall and Russo ran on to it, trapped it about 12 yards out and finished from the six-yard line past WSU goalkeeper Ella Dederick. It was Russo’s team-leading 13th goal of the season.
Carolina took the lead with 7:54 left in the first half on a goal that proved the worth of the multiple substitutes that came on the pitch about eight minutes earlier. Julia Dorsey sent a ball to Ru Mucherera down the left side and the redshirt senior carried it into the left side of the penalty area, dancing around a pair of defenders and delivering a perfect ball to the back post where Alexis Strickland was there to head it on for her fourth goal of the season.
Both teams took four shots in the first half and each team committed seven fouls. Washington State took all four corner kicks in the first half.
Alessia Russo had the first shot of the second half but her effort from 12 yards out on the left side of the box was saved by Dederick with 39:37 left in the contest. After mass substitutions by Carolina with 27:55 to play, the field titled in WSU’s direction for a while.
Averie Collins found herself alone in the box with 26:26 left but missed her shot to the left of the goal. In the ensuing minutes, Dickey made a pair of huge saves for Carolina in the box, stopping Elyse Bennett with 23:21 left and Makamae Gomera-Stevens with 21:47 left in the match. Dickey stopped her third shot of the second half with 18:10 to play, denying Mykiaa Minniss.
Washington State continued to apply pressure but Maycee Bell swept in to save a great goal-scoring opportunity with 15:51, knocking the ball over the end line for a corner kick. With 11:41 left, WSU had its final good chance at an equalizer only to see Morgan Weaver’s shot at an open goal slide to the right of the far post.
Carolina then finished the match out and will play for its 22nd NCAA championship on Sunday.
The meeting was the second in history between Carolina and Washington State. Carolina had won the previous meeting in 2003.