Despite their striking collapse versus Florida State last Sunday, the Cavaliers still had a chance to secure the third seed, and homefield advantage, for the ACC tourney. Would they overlook NC State?
At first glance, NC State came to Klöckner Stadium with very little to play for. Technically they could still qualify for the ACC tournament with a win over Virginia and a lot of help from their friends. But we’re Virginia…. and they’re State.... The Wolfpack wasn't playing so much for the ACC Tournament, but rather for the NCAAs. Since this is the ACC, State’s RPI ranking is high enough to potentially secure a bid to the tournament. As an added bonus this year’s final four, AKA the College Cup, will be just down the road.
Alas for the Wolfpack, Virginia came out like a swarm of angry honey bees, pressing high, pressing low and pressing in between. For the first 20 minutes of the game NC State barely had half a minute’s possession in our half. Our defensive intensity was the highest I’ve seen all season and we rained 11 shots on the goal in the first half. At this point in the Pitt game, a game where we were playing one gear lower than today, we’d had 4 goals. Maybe a miracle was in the offing for NC State..
In the first minute of the second half, Betsy Brandon struck a lovely corner that Lizzie Sieracki rose up to meet like a pro and headed home. As victimized as we might have been defending corners earlier in the season, this was atonement.
For the next 25 minutes we applied unreal pressure on the Wolfpack and it started up top with the ferocious play of Megan McCool and Alexa Spaanstra. This game was easily the hardest they’ve worked and if Nolan Richardson, former acclaimed coach of Arkansas and father of the 40-Minutes-of-Hell full court press, had been in attendance, he’d have been dancing in the stands. Our pressure wrecked NC State.
It must have been especially gratifying to Coach Swanson that it was McCool who scored the second goal of the game, largely as a result of this hard effort. One of the worst things that can happen to a player is for her to run her legs off, all to no avail, and then give up. Players need to be rewarded for their play, and in this case, McCool chased a longish through ball that she could have given up on, won the ball, passed to Anna Sumpter who shot, and then McCool gwon the rebound and hit a lovely left footed shot into the top corner. It was lovely, and it was all on McCool.
And just like that, the game was over.
Or so I thought.
No one told Wolfpack attacking midfielder Tziarra King though. She lashed a rocket from 25 yards out that sailed maybe half a foot over the bar. And then five minutes later: magic. State’s most technical player, Ricarda Walkling (whom we snuffed out for most of the game) found King on a through ball into the box. King slipped inside Hana Kerner. It what may have been the only mistake I’ve seen Phoebe McClernon make in six games, she got stuck in no-man’s land: she didn't recognize that Anna Sumpter had a central attacker covered so McClernon was too central on the play, unable to help Kerner double King in the box. As McClernon closed on King, King turned both Kerner and McClernon, and then with Zoe Morse rushing to close, King hesitated, let Morse go past her, and then drilled a perfect shot into the lower corner that keeper Ivory Morse had absolutely no chance of stopping. It was sublime.
And yet, I’ve spent more time talking about King's goal than our goals because thanks to the Virginia Athletic Department's stunning lack of foresight, creativity, and loyalty to the game, you won’t see King’s goal on these highlights. They are produced by the home team, and since we won, we chose to show our two goals, but you, me, and everyone who might care about women’s sports has been robbed. King beat not one, not two, but three top flight defenders, and for the sake of the women’s game, it should be celebrated. Every athletic department in every ACC program seems to take the opposite tack: it’s not our highlight, so fuck it. The women’s game is NOT a zero sum game. The entire sport has to be elevated, and we’ve missed a glorious chance to do that, had we been gracious enough to honor an opponent’s brilliance even as we won the game.
Next Up: The first round of the ACC tournament. As the #3 seed we host #6 Louisville whom we have already beaten 1 – 0 on the season. This should be a great game because the Louisville team is the only team that I thought had actually outplayed us. Gametime is 2pm this Sunday.
Injury Update: Our injuries may be mounting, which is always a concern. Starting center midfielder Montana Sutton had a fairly nasty collision in the first half, and though she did stay on for another five minutes, did not play the entire second half. I presume that during halftime concussion protocols took over and she was held out as a precaution. Four year starter Betsy Brandon deputized wonderfully for Sutton, but it could cause rotational issues for Coach Swanson since the usual backup for Sutton had been Claire Constant, who is now backing up Lizzie Sieracki who’s replaced the ailing Courtney Peterson. We’ve been fortunate with injuries up until two weeks ago. I've finally managed to learn that Peterson suffered an ankle strain versus Syracuse and that her appearance for the remainder of the season is still very much day-to-day.