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Virginia, VaTech, Florida State advance to College Cup

Virginia Tech goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts kept a clean sheet to help the Hokies into their first-ever College Cup. (Photo Copyright Steve Bruno for The Equalizer)

Virginia Tech will face Florida State in the Women’s College Cup national semifinals after each team won their NCAA tournament quarterfinal games on Friday. Virginia also won on Friday to advance to the semifinals.

No. 1 overall seed Virginia defeated Michigan 2-1 to advance to their first College Cup since 1991. Morgan Brian scored in the 24th minute before Meghan Toohey equalized for Michigan four minutes later. Molly Menchel scored the game-winner for the Cavaliers in the 68th minute.

Virginia will face the winner of Saturday’s North Carolina-UCLA semifinal. The Tar Heels have the chance to make the College Cup an all-ACC final four.

This will be Virginia Tech’s first-ever College Cup appearance, and the Hokies will have to go through fellow ACC foe and College Cup regular Florida State to get to the championship. Virginia Tech defeated Duke 3-0 in the quarterfinal, while FSU handled Boston College easily, 4-0.

VaTech junior Katie Yensen opened the scoring in the 45th minute before second-half goals from seniors Shannon Mayrose and Jazmine Reeves iced the game for the Hokies.

Elsewhere, Florida State’s match with Boston College proved nothing like their first meeting, which ended 4-3 for a wild Seminoles win.

Marta Bakowska-Mathews scored twice in the second half for Florida State, adding to goals from Michaela Hahn and Kassey Kallman for the 4-0 win.

FSU and Virginia Tech will meet each other for the third time this season in the national semifinal on Friday, Dec. 6. The Hokies are 0-13-1 all-time vs. Florida State.

Full recaps from The Equalizer’s Steve Bruno:

Virginia (No. 1) 2, Michigan (No. 3) 1

The top-ranked Cavaliers beat one of college soccer’s best defenses in Friday’s 2-1 quarterfinal victory at Klockner Stadium to advance to the College Cup for the first time since 1991.

The visiting Wolverines, ranked 11th nationally, had only allowed 10 goals through 22 matches this season coming into the game, largely through the airtight center back partnership of seniors Shelina Zadorsky and Holly Hein as well as freshman goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin. On the other side of the ball, Virginia boasts a relentlessly silky attack, leading the country with 75 goals from 14 different Cavs, while their defense has allowed only 57 shots on goal all season, the only team in the country to boast such a disparity between goals and shots on goal.

To deal with the Cavalier tidal wave, the Maize and Blue added an extra sandbag to the defensive wall, lining up five in the back, while the speed and power combo of Madisson Lewis and Nkem Ezurike looked to spring through the backline on the counter. In each of the previous rounds, Virginia dispatched both Georgetown and Wake Forest with neither team managing a shot on offense until the final minutes of the match. Canadian international Ezurike’s imposing presence isn’t so easy to shrug off, though, as Virginia’s ACC stablemates Notre Dame found out in last week’s Sweet 16 loss.

Morgan Brian came up huge once again for Virginia. (Photo Copyright Steve Bruno for The Equalizer)

Following an opening half-minute in Michigan’s offensive end, the UVA engine launched into gear, firing their first shot two minutes into the game, the first of three in the opening 10 minutes, off a header from Emily Sonnet. While Virginia circulated the ball around the edge of the 18-yard-box, poking and prodding the Wolverine wall to find a weakness, occasional flares of distress came from the backfield. Virginia’s central defenders typically camp on or ahead of the center line to compact the field for the offense, but Michigan midfielder Meghan Toohey proved to be as ferocious as her team mascot, pressuring the UVA defenders as they attempted to build up from the back field. With Toohey, Ezurike and Lewis aggressively contesting Virginia’s possession in the center of the park and the referee content to let the physical battle play out, it became clear that the home side wouldn’t be afforded their usual level of luxury on the ball. Unfortunately for the visitors, on their few quick-strike forays into the Cavaliers’ defensive third, Michigan couldn’t quite work through UVA’s center tandem of Emily Sonnett and Shasta Fisher to challenge freshman keeper Morgan Stearns, while Ezurike even found herself in a 6-on-1 as the Wolverines failed to support her with numbers.

In the 23rd minute, Virginia looked to have a chance at goal as a cross floated into the box found Morgan Brian tightly marked in the box. A push in the back amongst the fight for the ball sent the junior to the ground, bringing penalty shouts from the Klockner crowd. Before the protests had even stopped, though, Brian was back on her feet as Virginia maintained possession outside the box and, seconds later, sent another cross in from the top-right corner. With more space to operate as the defense pulled out, Brian ran back in on goal, deftly one-timing the pass in stride past Bucklin for the opening goal and her 16th of the season. The goal was also Brian’s fourth in as many games and continued a string of six games in which she has earned a point as the junior argues a strong case to the MAC Hermann court down the postseason stretch.

Brian nearly doubled the lead in the 28th minute as a cut-back pass from the endline by Danielle Colaprico found Brian leaping in front of the box, where she volleyed a side-footed shot in mid-jump, but straight into the arms of the grateful Wolverine keeper. Bucklin’s goal kick gave the UM offense time to get downfield and Ezurike finally landed an upper-cut to the Cavalier defense on the ensuing drive. Battling with Sonnet just outside the box, Ezurike barged the center back off the ball, worked her way into the box, then dished off to Toohey on the opposite side who handled the pass with a soft touch then hit the bouncing ball into the back of the net for the leveler.

Knotted at a goal each going into the half, the Cavaliers held a huge edge in shots with 14 through the opening 45 to a paltry pair for the Wolverines, but the stats belied the story on the field as Michigan gave the home side a level of discomfort in possession rarely seen this season.

The second half proved to be a little cagier, as Virginia were maybe still smarting a bit from the Wolverines’ haymaker while the Maize and Blue defenders were even more resolute in defense of their prized equalizer. The Michigan midfield again matched Virginia’s effervescent passing with a tough, harassing pressure which Cavalier players might still be feeling in class on Monday.

Caught in a bruising, physical match on the field, it’s perhaps apropos that the Cavaliers would ultimately respond with an uncharacteristically gritty, hard-nosed goal from left back Molly Menchel. The senior defender followed a long chip from Colaprico into the box, bombing in toward the far post to meet the ball as it arrived in front of Bucklin. Menchel blocked the ball down with her body in front of goal, bouncing it off the post, but corralling the rebound as she fell to tap it past the keeper for a goal that, although lacking UVa’s usual grace and flair, may have been the most beautiful of the season for the Cavalier faithful. Menchel’s goal marks the 13th of her career in Charlottesville, the most ever by a Virginia defender, with eight of those, including Friday’s vital quarterfinal score, game-winners.

Virginia, now 24-1 on the season, advance to Cary and a Final Four contest against the winner of Saturday’s North Carolina vs. UCLA rematch.

Virginia Tech (No. 1) 3, Duke 0

Turkey Day came a day late for the Hokies, as the home team weathered a first-half flurry from Duke to earn the program’s first-ever College Cup appearance.

The contest pitted an unlikely pair of ACC teams against each other, with the Blue Devils managing to fend off national irrelevance throughout the season as injuries decimated their roster and a six-game ACC winless streak had them on the brink of futility, while host side Virginia Tech defied their humble preseason ranking for a breakthrough year, earning a No. 4 NSCAA ranking going into the tournament and a coveted top seed at the head of their bracket.

Duke pushed their three-forward offense on Tech early, with Kim DeCesare testing Tech goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts on an early shot less than two minutes in as the team pressed for three corner kicks in the opening five minutes. Thirteen minutes in, the Hokie crossbar saved a Kelly Cobb shot from 20 yards out and Kaitlyn Kerr followed it up with a header into the back of the net that was disallowed on an offside call. Tech came alive after Duke dictated the opening 15, stringing together a few shots of their own before the game settled down through the middle of the half. Duke renewed their efforts over the last 10 minutes, taking four shots over that span, three coming within a minute and culminating with Toni Payne’s shot off the post, the second time in the half Colpitts’ frame saved their bacon. Duke eased up in the last few minutes, subbing forwards DeCesare and Cobb out for an early rest, but Tech pulled the rug out from under the Devils’ feet with 13 seconds to go when Katie Yensen’s header put the home side up by a goal. The two teams were level with seven shots and two shots on goal each through the first half, but Duke wouldn’t be able to keep stride with their opponents in the second.

Virginia Tech came out after halftime looking to apply the finisher as they bombed the Duke goal for four shots in the opening six minutes. Yensen nearly had her second of the contest in the 52nd minute as the midfielder’s hard drive from 25 yards out forced a superlative effort from Duke keeper Meghan Thomas to keep the game close. Duke struggled to regain their offensive form from the first half and, almost 20 minutes in, the home side outshot the visitors 8-1. The Hokies finally delivered the seemingly inevitable second goal when Shannon Mayrose one-timed Taylor Antolino’s low cross past Thomas in the 65th minute. Duke redoubled their efforts to get back in the contest with ten minutes to go, but all the Blue Devils had to show after an extended series of corner kicks and shots was a deeper deficit as Jazmine Reeves led a blitzing counter-attack to net the third and final goal of the match in the 82nd minute.

Florida State (No. 1) 4, Boston College 0

Florida State bullied the Eagles on both sides of the ball to earn their third consecutive College Cup appearance, rolling to their second 4-0 victory in as many games.

When the two teams met at the beginning of October, the Eagles shocked FSU in Tallahassee, going up by two goals on FSU’s belligerent defense, before the Seminoles would roar back in the second half to eventually prevail 4-3. On Friday, the Eagles looked to jump out to an early advantage again, stacking their firepower up front in a 4-3-3 that featured a combined 37 goals between the ACC’s leading scorer in McKenzie Meehan, BC assist-leader Stephanie McCaffrey and freshman Hayley Dowd. FSU, meanwhile, looked to hold play through the midfield while exploiting opportunities out wide in a 4-2-3-1, targeting prolific Icelanders Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Berglind Throvaldsdottir in the center of the park.

Florida State's Kassey Kallman came up big in a quarterfinal win. (Photo Copyright Steve Bruno for The Equalizer)

Following an early exchange in which each team opened with a shot in the first three minutes of play, the BC offense went into early hibernation as the Seminoles began to methodically exert their influence on the game. Florida State enjoyed a sustained build-up over a period of ten minutes, finding space on both flanks to whip in crosses for their central targets. All three Seminole shots in the first 25 minutes came off headers as the home side asserted their airborne authority. In the 36th minute, FSU finally cashed in on another one of those aerial opportunities as a cross in from the flank by left back Megan Campbell went off the head of midfielder Marta Bakowska-Mathews in the box, finding center back Kassey Kallman who headed the ball inside the left post. The goal was Kallman’s second of the year, her first also coming off a header in the opening round of the tourney against South Alabama, while Megan Campbell earned her team-leading 12th assist with the cross. By the end of the half, Florida State had outshot BC 8-2, with five of the eight coming off headers.

The second half started as quickly as the first, with each team again testing the other with early shots by the third minute of play. FSU enjoyed a sustained period for the opening 15 minutes, taking several shots before FSU midfielder Michaela Hahn finally broke through in the 60th minute, hitting a shot from 20 yards out to beat keeper Alex Johnson. Bakowska-Mathews doubled the lead over the 70th and 72nd minutes, scoring in the run of play and on a penalty kick after Brynjarsdottir was taken down in the box to put four up on Boston College for the second time this season. Like a gunslinger arriving late for the showdown, Eagle forward McCaffrey tallied her first shot of the match with just over two minutes left in the game, while strike partners Meehan and Dowd were rendered statistically invisible throughout the match by the Seminoles’ defense.

FSU have outscored their opponents 15-1 through the first four stages of the tournament and the offense have put at least four past an opponent seven times this season. Defense continues to be the bread and butter of coach Mark Krikorian’s team and Friday’s clean sheet was the 15th for the Seminoles this season.

Florida State enter the semifinal round for the seventh time in school history, but they’ve struggled to advance beyond this stage with a 1-5 record in the Final Four. They’ll play Virginia Tech in what’s becoming a monthly fixture between the two sides as the ACC foes meet for the third time in as many months. When they met last, the Seminoles controlled most of the match, earning a narrow 1-0 victory in the ACC Tournament’s championship match, as Florida State muffled forward Jazmine Reeves and the Hokie offense while Dagny Brynjarsdottir netted the game-winner.


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