Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. – Stanford won the 2016 NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship without scoring a goal and in the process became the first team to claim back-to-back titles in 12 years.
The fifth-seeded Cardinal, which lost six starters from last year’s NCAA title team, dispatched ninth-seeded North Carolina and second-seeded Wake Forest, both on penalty kicks, in the College Cup at Houston to earn its second championship.
Stanford became the first team to repeat as champion since Indiana did it in 2003-04.
Stanford goalkeeper Andrew Epstein made back-to-back saves in the final two rounds of the shootout on Wake’s Hayden Partain and Brad Dunwell to clinch the title.
In the semifinals at BBVA Compass Stadium, Stanford outlasted UNC 10-9 on penalty kicks after a scoreless match.
In the final, the Cardinal similarly downed Wake 5-4 after another scoreless battle.
Wake had ousted seventh-seeded and previously unbeaten Denver 2-1 in double overtime in the other semifinal on a golden goal by Ian Harkes.
Stanford’s path to the title went through the best the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) had to offer.
Eight ACC teams had advanced to the round of 16, and five to the quarterfinals.
Stanford eliminated four of them in a row – Virginia 1-0 in double overtime in the round of 16, Louisville 2-0 in the quarterfinals, and then UNC and Wake in the College Cup.
The Cardinal became the third team to win the title without scoring a goal in the College Cup, joining San Francisco (1976) and Wisconsin (1995) in that distinction.
Coincidentally, Stanford had beaten Wake in last year’s quarterfinals en route to its title.
Epstein was named the outstanding defensive player of the College Cup, with Harkes earning the offensive honor.
Joining them on the College Cup all-tournament team were midfielders Dunwell and Ema Twumasi and forward Jon Bakero of Wake, and defender Colton Storm of UNC.
UNC falls short
North Carolina came agonizingly close to a berth in the NCAA title game.
On the 10th round of penalty kicks, sophomore defender Alex Comsia put his attempt over the crossbar, allowing Stanford to advance to the final by a 10-9 count after a scoreless draw through 110 minutes of regulation and two overtimes.
It was the first miss by either team in the 10 rounds of penalties.
The Tar Heels had excellent chances to win it before the shootout but were denied in regulation and the second overtime on two spectacular saves by Andrew Epstein.
In the 81st minute, UNC midfielder Alan Winn got onto a loose ball at the top of the penalty area and blasted a shot goalward.
As Epstein broke to his left in reaction, the ball glanced off a Stanford defender and swerved to the goalkeeper’s right, but Epstein was able to deflect it away with his trailing foot.
In the final 15 seconds of the second overtime, UNC had two heart-stopping attempts on goal.
Epstein made another leg save on redshirt senior Tucker Hume’s shot before freshman Mauricio Pineda saw his bid blocked by a defender.
UNC finished with a 14-3-4 record and its 14th shutout of the season in a result that officially is recorded as a tie.
The Tar Heels allowed only 10 goals this season to lead all NCAA Division I teams.
No doubt the Tar Heels were hurt by freshman center midfielder Cam Lindley’s groin injury, which he suffered in a quarterfinal victory over Providence.
He played only 62 minutes, with limited effectiveness.
He probably would have seen 20 to 30 minutes more if he had been healthy.
The future looks bright for the Tar Heels, however, despite the impending loss of seven seniors, four of them starters.
The biggest loss, literally, will be 6-foot-5 twin brothers Tucker and Walker Hume.
Tucker led UNC in scoring for the second straight season (7 goals, 4 assists, 18 points), while Walker was a two-year starter on defense after he and his brother transferred from Division II Rollins College three years ago.
Like Tucker, Walker (4-4-12) was a dangerous offensive target on setpieces for the Tar Heels.
Also missing from UNC’s stout defensive back line will be Colton Storm, like Hume an outside defender.
Hume and Storm logged 1,965 and 1,964 minutes respectively of the season total of 1,998, and no clear successors appear ready to step in for them.
Rebuilding the defense around Comsia, the center back, will be a primary concern for coach Carlos Somoano during spring practice.
The other significant senior loss will be outside midfielder Nico Melo, who led the Tar Heels with eight assists and became a valuable contributor on the flank in his first season as a full-time starter.
UNC sweeps College Cup academics
UNC sophomore defender Alex Comsia gave UNC a sweep of the NCAA Elite 90 Award, which honors the player with the highest cumulative grade-point average from any of the final four teams.
Comsia, a pre-business major from Vancouver, British Columbia, has a 3.98 GPA.
He was a third-team Academic All-America choice earlier this season.
At the women’s College Cup a week earlier, UNC junior midfielder Frances Reuland of Carrboro won the women’s Elite 90 award.
Reuland, a double major in Spanish and environmental studies with a minor in chemistry, has a perfect 4.0 grade point average.
Comsia became the ninth UNC athlete to win the award, which was founded in 2008, and the fifth soccer player.
Bill Dworsky won the men’s sward in 2009, with Kristi Eveland (2009) and Caitlin Ball (2012) earning the women’s awards previously.
Hermann finalists named
The NSCAA whittled the list of candidates for the Missouri Athletic Club Hermann Trophy to three men’s and three women’s finalists Wednesday for college soccer’s player of the year honors.
The ACC is represented by Wake Forest senior Ian Harkes, a playmaking center midfielder who led the Deacons to the NCAA championship game.
He totaled 5 goals and 4 assists for 14 points this season.
Harkes’ father John, who played at Virginia and later captained the U.S. national team in two World Cups, won the 1987 MAC Award before it was merged with the Hermann Trophy.Hermann
Joining Harkes as finalists are Florida Gulf Coast junior forward Albert Ruiz and Maryland sophomore forward Gordon Wild.
They were the top two goal scorers in Division I this season. Ruiz scored 22 for FGCU, while Wild tied for second in the nation at 17.
The women’s finalists are Southern California senior midfielder Morgan Andrews, West Virginia senior defender Kadeisha Buchanan, and Stanford junior midfielder Andi Sullivan.
Southern Cal won the NCAA title, beating West Virginia 3-1 in the final.
The MAC Hermann winners will be announced Jan. 6, 2017, at the annual banquet in St. Louis.
ACC paces NSCAA All-Americans
Nine ACC men made the All-American teams selected by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), more than any other conference.
The field was led by three first-team picks from champion/finalist Wake Forest in goalkeeper Alec Ferrell and midfielders Ian Harkes and Jacori Hayes.
All three are seniors, and sophomore defender Miles Robinson of Syracuse gave the ACC a fourth first-teamer.
UNC freshman midfielder Cam Lindley, Virginia sophomore forward Edward Opoku, and Louisville junior defender Tim Kubel landed on the second team.
The third team included Virginia Tech junior forward Marcelo Acuna and Notre Dame senior defender Brandon Aubrey.
TopDrawerSoccer.com names best XI
Duke senior defender Christina Gibbons was named to the Best XI women’s team by TopDrawerSoccer.com, and Virginia senior midfielder Alexis Shaffer, a Green Hope High graduate, earned second-team honors.
Duke midfielder Ella Stevens and N.C. State defender Kristina Schuster made the Freshman Best XI first team, with UNC forward Bridgette Andrzejewski on the second team.
Florida State junior goalkeeper Cassie Miller was the only other ACC player on the Best XI first team, and FSU senior defender Kirsten Crowley joined Shaffer on the second team.
Forwards Deyna Castellanos of Florida State and Jennifer Westendorf of Notre Dame also made the Freshman XI first team, and UVa midfielder Zoe Morse and FSU defender Malia Berkely cracked the second team.
ACC places eight in final coaches’ poll
The NSCAA released its final men’s national rankings last week, and the ACC came away with eight teams ranked among the top 14 in the nation, led by NCAA runner-up Wake Forest (2) and College Cup semifinalist UNC (4).
The other ranked teams from the ACC were Clemson (5), Louisville (6), Virginia Tech (8), Syracuse (11), Virginia (13), and Notre Dame (14). Boston College received enough votes to be 28th overall.
Those nine ACC teams earned NCAA tournament bids.
All but BC reached the round of 16.