No. 1 Virginia advances to the ACC semifinals with a 1-0 win over No. 9 Duke

Senior forward Meghan McCool led the Cavaliers to victory with a game-winning goal in the second half

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Senior forward Meghan McCool led Virginia once again with her sixth game-winner on the season, posting a goal in the 55th minute of the match.

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

No. 1 Virginia brought down No. 9 Duke 1-0 in a highly competitive ACC quarterfinal matchup Sunday at Klockner Stadium. The Cavaliers (15-0-3, 7-0-3 ACC) played the Blue Devils (8-3-7, 3-2-6 ACC) to a scoreless tie earlier in the season but were able to overcome Sunday with a goal by senior forward Meghan McCool.

“I think we had to gut out a lot of that win,” McCool said. “I don’t think at times we played completely our game, but I think we got the result and that’s all that matters and we put 100 percent of the effort that we needed to put down.”

Despite playing a highly competitive match against No. 5 Florida State Thursday, Duke looked well-recovered and was able to challenge Virginia in the first half. The Blue Devils looked determined to turn the ball over with each loss of possession and applied a kind of pressure the Cavaliers haven’t seen throughout the season. Duke edged Virginia 5-to-3 in shots and had two attempts on target, compared to the Cavaliers’ one. 

Virginia looked frustrated early in the match as the Blue Devils continued to steal the ball away and shut down offensive drives. Passing looked inefficient and sloppy, and the Cavaliers couldn’t generate enough momentum to seriously challenge junior goalkeeper Brooke Heinsohn. 

“We got stretched a little bit defensively, and once we did that I think they were good enough to play through us,” Coach Steve Swanson said of the first half. “On the defensive side I thought they pressed us and caused some turnovers, especially in the first half. I thought we sorted some things out in the second half, but I thought the first half they pressed us and were able to cause some problems on our buildup.”

Virginia had a promising opportunity in the 12th minute as junior midfielder Anna Sumpter played the ball ahead to sophomore midfielder Alexa Spaanstra as she raced toward the goal. Duke defenders couldn’t catch up as the sophomore received the ball and worked into the box, cutting the ball back to freshman forward Diana Ordonez at the last second. Ordonez’s attempt, however, didn’t have the speed or placement to make it by Heinsohn. 

The Cavaliers had another chance in the 27th minute and worked their way into the box, passing the ball between players before junior midfielder Sydney Zandi was able to attempt a left-footed strike. A Duke defender got a foot on the ball, however, and the shot deflected high and away. 

Junior goalkeeper Laurel Ivory played a critical role in the match, making a pair of impressive saves in the first half that could easily have given the Blue Devils the lead. Ivory made the difference in a scoreless first 45 minutes, coming up with two crucial saves. 

Coming out of a difficult first period, Virginia looked to transition quicker and force the Blue Devils out of form. 

The Cavaliers finally broke the stalemate in the 55th minute as McCool scored her sixth game-winner on the season. Zandi lofted the ball high and into the box to McCool. The senior secured the ball between Duke defenders, pivoted and lifted a shot above the head of Heinsohn to give Virginia the lead. McCool now leads the team in goals with 14 on the season.

Virginia intensified after taking the lead and was able to dictate the tempo through the rest of the match. McCool offered another dangerous attempt in the 64th minute, but her shot missed high as it sailed over the goalposts. The senior was relentless, returning again in the 67th minute to post another shot, but the ball deflected off the foot of junior defender Caitlin Cosme. 

While Virginia looked vulnerable at moments, McCool was once again the leading force for the Cavaliers as she took advantage of the few opportunities allowed by the Blue Devils. Sophomore forward Rebecca Jarrett looked similarly dominant despite recording only one shot on goal on the night. Duke couldn’t keep up as the sophomore transitioned quickly downfield and was aggressive on the Virginia attack. 

“The postseason is just so much different than the regular season,” Jarrett said. “The energy, even just walking up to the field –– [it’s the] same field [and the] same fans … [but] there’s just a little bit of a different intensity to the whole thing and it’s great.”

With the win, the Cavaliers advance to the ACC semifinals and will travel to Cary, N.C., to face No. 2-seeded Florida State Friday. In their previous meeting, McCool scored the game-winner in overtime to lead Virginia to victory. 

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