Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. – The message could not be any simpler for N.C. State: Win and you’re in.
That’s where the Wolfpack women’s soccer team finds itself heading into Thursday’s regular-season finale with visiting Pittsburgh, set for 7 p.m. at Dail Soccer Stadium.
N.C. State stands eighth in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) standings and can punch its postseason ticket with a victory on Senior Night.
It would be the first appearance since 2006 for the Wolfpack in the ACC tournament, which limits its field to eight of the 14 women’s soccer teams in the league.
A victory Thursday for N.C. State also would snap a four-game losing streak compiled against a grueling late-season gantlet of nationally ranked powers over the past two weeks – No. 6 Duke, No. 8 Florida State, No. 7 Virginia and No. 14 Clemson.
The Wolfpack (9-7-1 overall) is on 10 points courtesy of a 3-5-1 ACC ledger, one point ahead of Virginia Tech (10-5-3, 2-4-3) and Louisville (7-6-4, 2-4-3).
An N.C. State victory over last-place Pitt (2-14-1, 1-8-0) would clinch the final berth in the tournament.
It’s possible that the Pack could make it even with a loss or a tie, but unlikely.
The Hokies will be favored over visiting Wake Forest (10-7-0, 2-7-0), although Louisville will have a tougher time when it hosts Virginia (12-3-2, 5-2-2).
The ACC’s top seven teams, all of whom won Sunday, have already qualified for the tournament, although their seeds are still up in the air.
Duke (12-3-2, 7-1-1) can clinch first place and its third regular-season title ever with a victory over Clemson (12-3-2, 6-1-2).
However, No. 12 Notre Dame (11-2-4, 6-1-2), Florida State (12-2-2, 6-1-2), and Clemson are each on 20 points and remain within striking distance should the Blue Devils stumble.
North Carolina (10-3-3, 5-2-2) and Virginia are on 17 points and could move into the top four as well.
The other Thursday night match to watch has No. 16 UNC hosting Florida State, the three-time reigning ACC champion.
It’s possible that five teams could wind up tied for second place, which would necessitate a furious tie-breaking procedure.
The stakes are high.
The top four seeds will host quarterfinal matches in the ACC tournament, which begins at 1 p.m. Sunday.
The semifinals and final will be played Nov. 4-6 at MUSC Health Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
That became the championship site when House Bill 2 led to the ACC’s postseason exodus from North Carolina.
Atlantic Division unsettled
The ACC men have a different postseason format from the ACC women.
The two division winners get the top two seeds, and all 12 men’s teams will play in the tournament, the first time everyone has been invited since 2012, when the league comprised only nine men’s teams.
Ten teams qualified for the tournament for the past three years.
The UNC men (11-2-2, 5-1-1) have already clinched the Coastal Division title; assuring themselves of home games through three rounds of the tournament should they advance that far.
The championship match is set for Sunday, Nov. 13, at MUSC Health Stadium.
The No. 3 Tar Heels visit No. 12 Notre Dame (10-5-1, 3-3-1) on Friday night.
The Atlantic title is up for grabs, however.
No. 2 Wake Forest (12-2-2, 5-1-1) and No. 7 Louisville (11-3-2, 5-1-1) are tied for first place, and both have tough regular-season finales Friday night.
Wake must travel to No. 6 Syracuse (10-3-2, 3-2-2), while Louisville hosts No. 5 Clemson (10-2-4, 3-1-3).
Duke (7-6-2, 2-4-1), which has won three straight after edging Elon 1-0 in overtime Tuesday, is playing for a potential first-round home game in the ACC tournament at No. 17 Virginia (8-2-5, 2-2-3) on Friday.
N.C. State (5-10-0, 1-6-0) will be either the 11th or 12th seed depending upon its match Saturday at Boston College (6-7-2, 2-3-2).
The men’s tournament gets underway Wednesday, Nov. 4, with the top four seeds receiving first-round byes.
The Nos. 5-8 seeds will host first-round matches.
The ACC head coaches in the Triangle said they favor the expanded ACC tournament field.
UNC coach Carlos Somoano said he has lobbied for an expanded tournament for several years.
“Every player in this league is a good player,” he said.
“They deserve a postseason. The season is a short one as it is. They don’t deserve to see their season end in October.”
Said Duke coach John Kerr, “Everybody has a chance at the end of the season to play in a competitive environment, and that’s what our kids want to do. Everybody wants a chance to play in the ACC tournament, so I’m really glad everybody has a chance to participate.”
“The main reason I like it is our league is one of the best in the country,” N.C. State coach Kelly Findley said.
“I think every student-athlete deserves a chance to play in the championship, whether you’re first or 12th.”
Duke’s Williamson honored
Freshman midfielder Brandon Williamson made some special memories on Senior Night at Duke last Friday.
He scored the first two goals of his collegiate career to carry the Blue Devils to a 2-1 upset in double overtime of Notre Dame.
The freshman from Gainesville, Va., is the ACC Offensive Player of the Week, and College Soccer News and TopDrawerSoccer.com named him to their national teams of the week.
“I would never have expected that I would score two goals against Notre Dame,” Williamson said.
“Never. That’s crazy. Crazy.”
Williamson, who was making his fifth start of the season, has played outside back because of injuries to several regulars but has seen more time in the midfield recently.
“He’s very composed for a young player, and he’s very good at keeping the ball for us,” Duke coach John Kerr said.
“He doesn’t rush things, he uses his body well even though he’s a slight guy, and he’s very smart. He defends properly, he picks off passes, he gets in the passing lanes, and he’s a great all-around player.”
The victory over the Irish, who were ranked fourth at the time, marked the highest-ranked team to fall to the Blue Devils since Duke upset No. 1 UNC 2-1 in 2014.
Duke seniors Jimmy Doll, Jared Golestani, Brody Huitema, Ben Hummel, Robert Moewes and Ryan Thompson were honored in a pregame ceremony.
UNC men celebrate
Tucker Hume, one of seven seniors recognized on Senior Night, scored his fifth goal of the season in the 87th minute as the Tar Heels shut out No. 23 Virginia Tech 2-0 on Saturday.
“It’s definitely special to get a goal on Senior Night, just for the occasion as well as the Coastal Division (title),” Hume said.
“But it’s also just a big ACC game for us to get a result, and now we have a full week for Notre Dame so we can go back and work on things.”
The 6-foot-5 Hume was also involved in the play that led to UNC’s first goal in the 18th minute.
He was fouled after getting a pass from his twin brother Walker Hume, and David October converted the ensuing penalty kick for the Tar Heels.
“Obviously on our set-pieces we like to bring me and Tuck both to mix in some runs in,” Walker Hume said.
“So the ball got served to the back post, which we like to exploit. I told Tuck to leave it, and I headed it but couldn’t get much on it. It was nice that he was able to scoop up the second ball and draw that foul.”
Besides the Humes, the UNC seniors honored were Warren Marshall, Nico Melo, Eric O’Brien, Colton Storm, and Nick Williams.
Red cards wanting
Have ACC referees forgotten that denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity is a red-card offense?
It would seem so.
Two such incidents in matches Sunday resulted in yellow-card cautions instead of red-card ejections and allowed the offending teams to continue without going one player short.
With host Clemson leading 1-0 in the 13th minute, N.C. State forward Kia Rankin was pursuing a back pass when she was tripped from behind by Clemson defender Samantha Staab just outside the penalty area.
The only defender in front of Rankin was goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, and Rankin was closer to the ball, but referee Andy Costel showed Staab a yellow card, not a red.
Host UVa was trailing BC 1-0 in the 52nd minute when the Cavaliers’ Hana Kerner was fouled on a breakaway in the penalty area by BC goalkeeper Alexis Bryant.
Referee Peter Dhima awarded a penalty kick for the foul but showed Bryant a yellow card instead of red.
State ended up losing 2-1, but Clemson should have been reduced to 10 players for the final 77 minutes, which would have been a huge disadvantage against an offensively potent Wolfpack.
UVa, which made the penalty kick after Kerner’s foul, would go on to score twice more and win 3-2.
However, the high-scoring Cavaliers would have had a numerical advantage for the final 38 minutes had a red card been shown.
It’s not like referees haven’t made that call this season.
BC’s Bryant received a red card from referee Sean Regan for fouling Duke’s Kayla McCoy on a breakaway in the penalty area in a 3-2 loss on Sept. 17.
UNC alums earn caps
Kealia Ohai wrote her name into the record books Sunday when the UNC alum made her first appearance with the U.S. Women’s National Team in a 5-1 victory over Switzerland at Minneapolis.
Ohai, who replaced ex-UNC standout Crystal Dunn in the lineup at forward in the 81st minute, scored 48 seconds after stepping onto the field, breaking the record for the quickest goal in an international debut by a U.S. player.
Lynn Williams of the U.S. had set the record just four days earlier when she scored 49 seconds into her debut in a 4-0 victory over Switzerland at Sandy, Utah.
Ohai was one of five former Tar Heels playing for the U.S.
Dunn scored her 13th goal of the year in the 63rd minute, giving her 17 in 43 international appearances.
Ashlyn Harris made her second start of the year as goalkeeper, earning her 10th cap.
Allie Long, who had played as a holding midfielder in the Rio Olympics, started at center back for the second straight match as the U.S. again utilized a 3-5-2 formation.
Tobin Heath, who scored her fifth goal of the year in the first win over Switzerland, played the entire 90 minutes at outside midfielder.