Kip Coons, TSN Correspondent
RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina earned a No. 9 seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship when the pairings were announced earlier this week.
The tournament gets underway Thursday with 16 first-round games at campus sites.
The Tar Heels (11-3-3) will host a second-round match at 7 p.m. Sunday at Fetzer Field against either South Florida (10-6-3) or Florida Gulf Coast (14-3-2).
USF will host the first-round match.
UNC and Florida Gulf Coast have never met. UNC last played USF in the first round of the 2013 NCAA tournament, claiming a 1-0 victory.
If a No. 9 seed sounds pretty low for a team ranked in the top 10 all season long, there’s no need for concern among conspiracy theorists.
In the NCAA men’s soccer tournament, the national seeds are ranked Nos. 1 through 16; in contrast, basketball or women’s soccer utilize four No. 1 seeds when they draw up their regions.
So a No. 9 seed in the men’s soccer bracket would be analogous to a No. 3 seed in men’s basketball.
If UNC prevails Sunday, the Tar Heels could be headed to a rematch against ACC rival Syracuse (11-3-4), which is seeded eighth and would host a third-round contest.
The Orange must get past either Dartmouth (8-4-5) or St. Francis, N.Y. (12-4-3).
The Heels and Orange played to a 0-0 tie at Syracuse during the regular season.
UNC and Syracuse were among an NCAA-record nine ACC schools in the 48-team field, which included 24 conference champions who were automatic qualifiers.
No other conference had more than four selections.
The nine bids are the most from any conference in NCAA history, surpassing the previous record of eight set by the ACC in 2005 and tied by the Big East in 2012.
Seven of the ACC teams are seeded, including ACC champion Wake Forest (2), Clemson (3), Louisville (4), Virginia (12), and Notre Dame (13).
Virginia Tech and Boston College also received bids and will host first-round games.
The ACC has had at least five teams in the field for 16 straight years, and seven of the last 11 champions have come from the ACC.
“I’m glad that happened because I can tell you firsthand, they’re all very good and deserving of their seeds and their selections,” UNC coach Carlos Somoano said of the ACC’s postseason presence.
He said he wasn’t looking ahead to the possible rematch with Syracuse.
“You don’t get to play them unless you win your first game,” said Somoano, mindful that the Tar Heels were seeded first in the ACC tournament two weeks ago but were upset by Boston College 1-0 in the second round after an opening bye.
Triangle women advance
All three Triangle teams will play Friday in the second round of the NCAA women’s tournament, and two of them will get to play at home.
Second-seeded UNC (14-3-4), coming off a 3-0 victory over Liberty, will host Kansas (11-5-4) at 6 p.m. Friday.
The winner plays at 1 p.m. Sunday against either third-seeded Clemson (14-4-3) or Arkansas (18-5-0), who meet at 3 p.m. Friday at Chapel Hill.
With the UNC men playing Sunday night, there will be a day-night soccer doubleheader at Fetzer Field that could involve both Tar Heels teams.
Third-seeded Duke (13-4-3) downed Charlotte 3-0 and vaulted into the host role for the regional round when second-seeded Notre Dame was eliminated on penalty kicks 5-4 by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville in the first round.
The grateful Blue Devils will host Illinois State (14-5-3) at 6:30 p.m. Friday, following the 3:30 p.m. match between Northwestern (15-2-4) and SIUE (10-7-5) at Koskinen Stadium.
The winners play at 2 p.m. Sunday.
N.C. State (10-8-2) eliminated fourth-seeded Minnesota 4-2 on penalty kicks and for its reward must travel to Palo Alto, Calif.
The Wolfpack will play Pepperdine (12-4-4), which got past California also on penalty kicks 3-2, at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
On the other side of their bracket, No. 1 seed Stanford (17-1-1) takes on Santa Clara (10-6-4), with a berth in Sunday’s third round at stake.
Florida State and Virginia are the other ACC teams remaining as six of the seven conference representatives advanced.
UNC and Duke cruised to first-round victories at home last Saturday in the NCAA women’s tournament, but N.C. State had to withstand 110 scoreless minutes of regulation and two overtime periods before dispatching fourth-seeded Minnesota on penalty kicks.
UNC got goals from freshman forward Madison Schultz, sophomore midfielder Dorian Bailey and junior forward Abby Elinsky in beating Liberty (14-8-0) in an NCAA first-round match for the third time in four years.
Schultz’s third goal of the season was also her third game-winner, all in the past five games.
She opened the scoring in the 41st minute when UNC’s substitutes had taken control late in the first half.
Bailey got her third goal of the season in the 59th, and Elinsky netted her first in two years as a Tar Heel in the 70th.
Elinsky had scored two goals as a freshman at Illinois before transferring to UNC.
The Tar Heels outshot the Flames 29-2, totaling a season high in shots.
Duke jumped on Charlotte (11-9-2) early, getting a goal from freshman forward Ella Stevens in the 11th minute, and never looked back.
Stevens’ goal was her team-high ninth, and Toni Payne added her seventh in the 49th as the Blue Devils pulled away early in the second half.
Freshman defender Mia Gyau collected her first collegiate goal in the 69th to cap the scoring.
Stevens and Payne added two assists apiece, and junior goalkeeper EJ Proctor posted her ninth solo shutout of the season and 20th of her career.
The Blue Devils won their 13th consecutive NCAA tournament home match for coach Robbie Church, who began the program at Charlotte and served as head coach of the 49ers for five years (1994-98).
N.C. State, which was making its first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 20 years, advanced to the second round for the first time since 1995.
The Wolfpack held a slim 14-13 edge in shots over Minnesota (16-3-4) but forced Gophers goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs to make eight saves, while State’s Sydney Wootten needed to stop only two shots in the shutout.
Wootten also came up with two saves in the penalty shootout.
The Wolfpack’s Taylor Porter, Tziarra King, Hannah Keogh and Ricarda Walkling successfully converted all four of its attempts to clinch advancement.
N.C. State played without starting forward Kia Rankin, but the Pack’s second-leading scorer is expected to return from injury this weekend.
Longtime record could fall
UNC goalkeeper Lindsey Harris has a shot at erasing one of the most longstanding marks in the school’s record book.
Harris, a redshirt senior from Austin, Texas, owns 77 saves this season and a 0.66 goals-against average.
She has saved 84.6 percent of the shots she has faced.
The school record for saves in a season, 89, was set by Molly Current in 1980, the second year of the UNC program’s existence.
The Tar Heels played a schedule of mostly college club and amateur teams in the infancy of collegiate women’s soccer.
A major reason why the UNC record for saves has stood for nearly 36 seasons has been the preference of UNC coach Anson Dorrance – the only coach in the history of the program – to utilize two regular goalkeepers.
This year is the first time since 2009 that he has played primarily one goalkeeper.
Harris shared time in goal the last two seasons with Bryane Heaberlin, a senior last year.
Harris is an excellent shot stopper and has logged some impressive games.
She had 11 saves in a 0-0 tie with Duke, 10 in a 3-0 shutout of Virginia Tech, and eight in a 1-0 loss to Notre Dame.
She has seven solo shutouts this season and three more where she combined with sophomore Samantha Leshnak for the clean sheet.