CHARLESTON, S.C. – In a battle fitting of a conference championship match, neither No. 13 Florida State (13-3-4) nor No. 10 North Carolina (13-3-4) could put the ball in the back of the net over 110 minutes, forcing penalty kicks after a 0-0 draw.
In the shootout, Florida State converted all four of their attempts, while FSU goalkeeper Cassie Miller made a save on Abby Elinsky’s PK in the third round and UNC’s Bridgette Andrzejewski missed her attempt to open the fifth round to give FSU the 2016 ACC Championship crown.
Four FSU players were named to the 2016 ACC All-Tournament Team – Kirsten Crowley, Megan Connolly, Miller and 2016 ACC Tournament MVP, Natalia Kuikka. It is the second time that Kuikka has earned Tournament MVP honors.
The Seminoles are unbeaten in their last five ACC Championship Game appearances, posting a 3-0-2 record since 2011. The last time FSU lost an ACC title game was in 2009 to North Carolina.
Other than UNC’s 20 conference titles, the Seminoles’ five ACC Championships are more than all of the other conference schools combined – Virginia (2004, 2012), Wake Forest (2010) and NC State (1988).
The Noles have eight all-time wins against North Carolina, the most of any school in the country, and are 6-1-2 in the last nine games of the series against the Tar Heels. FSU has 12 combined wins and draws against UNC all-time, and other than Notre Dame (9 – seven wins and two draws) and Virginia (8 – four wins and four draws), no other school in the nation has more than five combined wins and draws against North Carolina.
“It was a very competitive game,” said FSU head coach Mark Krikorian. “Both teams did their absolute best and there were a lot of physical confrontations and battles and so on, but overall we are quite pleased that our young group was able to withstand the quality of UNC’s pressure.”
The first half was a battle, but for all of the physical and technical effort in the opening 45 minutes, neither team was able to create quality scoring chances as the teams entered intermission with just one shot apiece.
North Carolina looked like they would take a 1-0 lead in the sixth minute, as Elinsky headed a ball into the net, but the shot was disallowed as the Tar Heels were ruled offside.
UNC earned a pair of free kicks just outside the penalty box and two corners in the first half, but were unable to take a shot on any of the set pieces. The first shot of the game came in the 35th minute from UNC’s Sarah Ashley Firstenberg, but it went wide of the net.
Florida State built several lengthy possessions in the first half, but struggled to find the final pass for a scoring opportunity. The Noles nearly struck in the closing minute of the period as Dallas Dorosy took the ball on a long run down the right side before serving the box. It was headed to Taylor Hallmon on the left side of the six yard box, but her shot at 44:55 was stopped on a diving save by UNC’s Lindsey Harris to keep the match tied at 0-0.
Deyna Castellanos started off the second half with a shot from the edge of the penalty box on the right side in the 47th minute, but it was saved by UNC’s Harris. The freshman forward took another shot in the 56th minute, but it went wide of the goal.
UNC worked some chances as Megan Buckingham took a shot that was blocked in the 61st minute, and a corner and shot attempt by Andrzejewski in the 63rd minute was saved by Miller.
Miller made a great stop in the 72nd minute, swallowing up a pass as North Carolina worked a player behind the defensive line, but the redshirt junior goalkeeper came out to challenge and secured possession before the Tar Heel attacker could get a toe on it.
North Carolina had one final push in regulation, earning a corner in the 90th minute, but Miller was able to leap above the fray and punch the ball away as a crowd of Tar Heels crashed the box, sending the match to overtime.
The Seminoles held most of the possession in the first overtime, finding spaces as they continued to work to break down the UNC defense. The Tar Heels managed a quality counterattack opportunity in the 92nd minute as Firstenberg found Alex Kimball out wide on the right by herself. She brought the ball down toward the endline, but her entry pass was intercepted by Malia Berkely to end the threat.
FSU nearly ended the match in the 96th minute as Kaycie Tillman slipped a ball into Kristen McFarland at the top of the box, and the freshman turned and worked within 10 yards before taking a shot that was saved. The rebound bounced out to Castellanos, but her follow-up shot went high.
In the second overtime, UNC’s Darcy McFarlane picked up a loose ball in the 105th minute 35 yards from the goal, but her shot was unsuccessful in chipping over Miller as she caught it for a save.
In the 110th minute, FSU made a final push, getting the ball into McFarland at the top of the box and the freshman forward turned and took a shot that was blocked away for a corner. Kuikka’s corner appeared destined for the head of Crowley, but UNC’s Harris jumped to catch the ball and force the penalty kick shootout.
Florida State won the toss and chose to shoot second in each round. Both FSU (Crowley and Kuikka) and UNC (Annie Kingman and Buckingham) converted each of the first two rounds of the shootout for a 2-2 score. FSU’s Miller stepped up with a huge save on Elinsky’s attempt and Connolly followed with her PK conversion to make it 3-2 FSU after three rounds.
UNC’s Hanna Gardner and FSU’s Haylie Grant made each of their attempts in the fourth round to maintain the FSU lead at 4-3. Andrzejewski looked to extend the shootout in the fifth round, but her shot went wide of the goal to end the match.
“Yeah, she has a good instinct and does a good job in that regard,” added Krikorian about Miller. “It is one of those things that you hope in the course of the training that you are preparing them to do the right things when the moment comes, and fortunately today we were able to.”
Despite finishing in a tie for fourth place in the overall conference standings and earning a No. 6-seed in the 2016 ACC Championships, the Noles are unbeaten and have posted a 3-0-3 record all-time as the No. 6-seed in the conference tournament, earning ACC titles in 2011 and 2016.
The Seminoles have earned the automatic bid from the Atlantic Coast Conference and now wait to find out their first round opponent of the 2016 NCAA Championship that begins this coming weekend. If the Noles are selected as a first-round host site, the match will likely be played on Saturday, November 12 at 2:00 p.m. The entire 64-team bracket will be revealed during the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, November 7 at 4:30 p.m., streamed live on NCAA.com.