SAN JOSE, Calif. – A goal by junior forward Michaela Abam in the 74th minute propelled the No. 1 West Virginia University women's soccer team to its first-ever NCAA College Cup Final with a 1-0 victory over No. 6 North Carolina in front of 4,293 fans at Avaya Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Making their first College Cup appearance in program history, the Mountaineers (23-1-2, 8-0) extended their unbeaten streak to 17 matches and turned in their program-record 18th shutout of the season. Additionally, West Virginia won its 23rd game, the most in team history and tied for the Big 12 Conference record.
WVU will play for its first national championship against No. 7 USC in the College Cup Final on Sunday, Dec. 4, at 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT, at Avaya Stadium. The Trojans (17-4-2, 8-2-1 Pac 12) defeated No. 5 Georgetown 1-0 in Friday's second semifinal.
"First and foremost, I'd like to congratulate the University of North Carolina on an incredible year and an incredible game," Mountaineer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown said. "They were just tough – tough, tough, tough. When you have to deal with the Tar Heels and beat that pressure – it is incredible how hard that team works.
"Next, I would like to say how proud I am of the team that I get to coach every day. We found a way to win, we defended and got our shutout and are thrilled to be going on to the championship game."
Abam's goal, her team-leading 12th of the season, came at 73:46. The play began with a free kick on the far side of the field, where the ball was sent into the box. After bouncing off a UNC defender inside the six, sophomore Grace Cutler passed the ball out to Abam on the left side of the box about 10 yards out. The Houston native touched once before sending the ball into the back of the net, between the keeper and the right post. It was Abam's team-best fifth game-winning goal of the season.
The goal was the first allowed in the 2016 NCAA Tournament by the Tar Heel defense and snapped UNC's five-match shutout streak.
Abam now shows a team-best 12 goals, matching her output from the 2015 season. She pushes her career total to 32 and continues to rank No. 8 on the program's all-time career goals list.
Tar Heel goalkeeper Lindsey Harris made five saves in the loss.
Abam led the team with four shots, two on-goal. Junior forward Heather Kaleiohi registered three shots, while sophomore Sh'Nia Gordon added two shots, with one on-goal.
WVU had 13 shots, six on-goal, while the Tar Heels (17-4-4, 6-2-2 ACC) had eight shots, none coming on goal. UNC is the third opponent WVU has denied a shot on-goal, and the first since Sept. 30.
The shutout is the eighth of the season for freshman goalkeeper Rylee Foster.
UNC finished with a 2-1 edge in corner kicks; the total is a season low for WVU.
Though the first half saw limited chances, WVU earned both. Senior midfielder Ashley Lawrence tallied the first in the third minute, earning a chance to the left of the penalty-kick line, but Harris was there for the stop.
Junior defender Amandine Pierre-Louis earned the second chance 13 minutes later, bringing the ball through midfield and up to the box. She was able to get a shot off while falling, but it didn't have much of a chance and was stopped by Harris.
The Tar Heels opened the second half with back-to-back corner kicks, the first of the game.
From there, the Mountaineers controlled pace. Sophomore Sh'Nia Gordon earned the first quality shot in the 56th minute, but her chance from inside the box went wide of the right post.
Abam had two quick looks in the 64th minute. The first came on an in-stride shot she took from 35-yards out, but it bounced and was stopped by Harris. Seconds later, Lawrence found Abam on a dangerous cross. She flicked the ball toward the net, but it went wide of the frame.
Freshman forward Bridgette Andrzejewski tallied back-to-back shots in the 77th minute, but both from inside the goal-box went over the crossbar.
With the win, WVU evens the all-time series against UNC at 1-1.
Sunday's National Championship match will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU, with Jenn Hildreth on the call and Julie Foudy providing color.