Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – “When you go through a rebuilding process, you need one signature game that lets the team know you’ve made the transition,” N.C. State women’s soccer coach Tim Santoro said.
Santoro’s Wolfpack found that signature victory Friday night, and it came against the ACC’s most storied program and State’s biggest rival, North Carolina.
Freshman forward Kia Rankin scored an opportunistic goal in the 67th minute, and sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Wootten recorded her fourth straight shutout and extended her scoreless streak to 425 minutes as unheralded N.C.
The Wolfpack (7-2, 1-0 ACC) collected its sixth straight victory but more to the point broke through to beat the Tar Heels (5-2-1, 0-1) for only the second time in history.
Not since 2002 had State beaten its Triangle rival, and it still trails in the series by a whopping 44-2-2 against the 22-time national champions.
State got the result despite being outshot 12-4 and without benefit of a corner kick; UNC attempted three.
And the Wolfpack didn’t have the services of its leading scorer, redshirt junior Jackie Stengel.
Stengel suffered an injury to her right leg early in Sunday’s win over Gardner-Webb, and her status remains unclear.
Stengel, who has five goals and an assist, missed the 2014 season with a torn ACL and has battled a series of nagging injuries throughout her career.
Yet the Wolfpack was able to overcome her absence.
“Coming to Chapel Hill and wining speaks for itself, especially missing Jackie and having to play our first game without her,” Santoro said.
“You’re not sure what you’re going to get from your team. But getting a win like this says a lot about the team, says a lot about the growth we’ve had.”
Santoro has waited patiently for that growth.
The fourth-year head coach saw his Wolfpack struggle through two consecutive 0-10 ACC campaigns the past two seasons.
Friday’s win snapped a 20-game losing streak in conference play that dated to a 2-1 win in 2013 over Wake Forest, where he was an assistant coach for five years.
This year he has played his freshmen extensively, starting five of them along with four sophomores.
Two freshmen combined for State’s goal.
Paige Griffith, who played at Millbrook High in Raleigh and for CASL’s ENCL team, won a ball in the midfield after State’s defense turned back a clearing attempt by the Tar Heels.
Griffith slotted a pass between defenders to Rankin, who completed her run by getting UNC goalkeeper Lindsey Harris to come off her line before slipping the shot into the left corner for her third goal of the season.
“We knew we could counter, and we knew we could get behind them with some wide positions,” Santoro said.
“Credit to our team for sticking to that game plan,” Rankin said.
“We were successful getting wide, (and) we had some opportunities we couldn’t finish it. But the goal came from finding Paige wide, and she played me in.”
Wootten, whose eight saves were a season high, faced her biggest threat in the 62nd minute.
Sarah Ashley Firstenberg received a chipped pass deep in the penalty area, but Wootten made the save on her close-range shot.
The rebound fell to Annie Kimball, but her subsequent shot was blocked by State defender Kristina Schuster.
UNC turned up the pressure over the final 10 minutes, but State stood firm.
“We tried to go forward and make some things happen, but they were resolute in the back,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said.
“We couldn’t get an easy opportunity.
“State did a very good job of preventing us from facing up. And that’s a credit to their excellent defensive presence. We rarely had a chance to face their goal.”
Given the youth of the N.C. State team, Santoro was asked if his players appreciated the magnitude of their victory.
“They do,” he said assuredly.
“Everyone knows this field. Everyone knows the light blue track (around the field). Everyone knows the (NCAA) title boards over there. Everyone knows Anson. People know the history. These girls are students of the game. They come to the camps here. They’re well aware.”
But Santoro said one victory wasn’t enough.
“We just wanted to be 1-0 in the conference,” he said.
“Our goal for the season wasn’t beating Carolina. We want to do some bigger things over the season. But this kind of tells us, reaffirms for us, that things can be a little different.”