Such spirit is to be expected anytime two traditional basketball schools meetup. However, Friday’s soccer result carried far greater import in its particular sport. As a result of its victory, Indiana returns to the College Cup for the first time since winning the 2004 national championship and continues an improbable run through this year’s tourney that includes road wins over No. 1 seed Notre Dame and now defending national champion North Carolina. Indeed, this is the second straight year and the third time in the last four years that the Hoosiers and Tar Heels have faced off in the NCAA Tournament.
On the other side, Indiana’s win ends North Carolina’s run of four consecutive trips to the College Cup; indeed, the last school to reach five straight College Cups was Indiana from 1997-01. Moreover, the loss also ends the Tar Heels’ 40-match home unbeaten streak, an incredible run that dates back to Sept. 3, 2010. Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley began his postgame press conference by saluting these accomplishments by the UNC program, plaudits that sounded more genuine than the usual pleasantries that athletic winners extend to their vanquished opponents.
The game itself was a rather ragged affair, albeit a battle between equally matched foes. The uneventful first half featured only four shots, all by North Carolina. However, it was the Hoosiers that exited intermission on their front foot, pressuring the Tar Heels back line during a five-minute flurry. After squandering several scoring opportunities, Indiana notched the game-winner in the 50th minute. A poor Tar Heels clearance out of the box gave Indiana’s Patrick Doody the change to send a cross into the box. Indiana leading scorer Eriq Zavaleta accepted service and delivered a header that was saved by a diving Goodwin. However, Zavaleta was first to the airborne rebound, which he re-headed into an open goal for the go-ahead score.
North Carolina mounted late charge over the game’s closing 15 minutes. But while the Tar Heels outshot Indiana 13-6 for the game, only one of their nine second half shots were on-target and none found nylon. While UNC appeared to play a subpar game, head coach Carlos Somoano saw things differently, with one very important exception.
“We played a pretty good game,” he said straight-faced. “We did most of the things we wanted to do, but in the end the plays that matter are the ones in the box and you’ve got to come up with the goods. And we didn’t.”
While Indiana (14-5-3) advances to Hoover, Ala., the Tar Heels (16-4-3) can dull tonight’s pain with hopes for next year. Friday’s starting lineup featured four freshmen and three sophomores but only two now-departing seniors.
“We were an extremely young team this year with a lot of new faces,” said Somoano. “And that’s probably what I’m most proud of. Given the circumstances of turnover and some of the things we had to deal with off the field, it’s pretty damn amazing what these guys were able to accomplish.”