ACC right at home in Cary College Cups

The men’s and women’s soccer final fours feature five league teams

The NCAA College Cups for men’s and women’s soccer will be both be decided this weekend in Cary.

Cary is certainly no stranger to the NCAA championships in the sport. This is the ninth time in the last 18 years the women have settled their tournament in Cary and the sixth time in 16 years the men’s College Cup has been held there.

This year, however, due to the pandemic, Cary has been the host for the entire tournament, reducing travel and giving the NCAA a central location for testing. While there have been games played in the surrounding area in North Carolina, Wake Med Soccer Park has been the men’s and women’s college soccer capital for this season.

Playing on familiar territory has certainly helped the teams the ACC. The league will be heavily represented in both championships. More than half of the eight teams— two of the four men and three of the four women — hail from the ACC.

The women will get things started with their final four teams playing in the national semifinals on Thursday. It will be tough to miss the ACC, which makes up 75% of the remaining field and has a spot in the championship game guaranteed.

The league’s success can’t just be attributed to home cooking, however. The league’s teams have combined for 54 Cup appearances, more than double any other conference. It’s the third time in the history of the event that a trio of teams from the ACC has crashed the College Cup. The league also had three of the four semifinalists in 2011 and 2013.

It’s interesting to note that in both of those previous seasons the fourth, non-ACC team emerged with the title.

Florida State and Virginia will play in an all-ACC semifinal on Thursday.

The top seed in their region, the Seminoles shut out Milwaukee and beat Penn State 3-1 to advance to the regional championship, where they beat fellow ACC member Duke on penalty kicks. That earned FSU a spot in its 11th College Cup, tied for third-most in history, and first since 2018. Florida State is one of six teams in history with multiple women’s soccer titles, winning in 2014 and 2018.

Virginia is a surprise team in the semifinals. The Cavaliers beat Southern Illinois University Edwardsville in the opening round, then upset No. 12 seed BYU, shut out Rice and upset No. 4 seed TCU to advance to their fourth Cup and first since 2014.

In the other national semifinal, the North Carolina Tar Heels will face Santa Clara. The Heels have won more than half (21 of 38) of all women’s soccer titles, although they haven’t taken home a title since 2012.

Carolina has been plagued by near misses in recent years. This is the fourth Cup appearance in five years for the Heels, and UNC advanced to the title game the last two seasons only to watch someone else celebrate. The second-seeded Heels are on a mission, shutting out Denver, Washington and Texas A&M to reach the final weekend of the season.

Santa Clara is the lone hope for the rest of the nation. The Broncos are making their 11th trip to the College Cup and first since 2004. They won the 2001 title. A No. 11 seed, Santa Clara beat Ohio State, upset No. 6 Arkansas and prevented a clean sweep by the ACC by taking out Clemson in the regional championship.

A pair of ACC teams are in the men’s College Cup, marking the second straight year the ACC has accomplished that feat. The league has sent at least one team to 19 of the last 20 Cups and has won 17 titles, including seven of the last 15.

The Tar Heels will be trying for a men’s/women’s sweep of the soccer championships, a feat last accomplished by Stanford in 2017.

UNC escaped a penalty kick shootout with Charlotte to open its run, then upset No. 4 seed Stanford and No. 5 Wake Forest to reach its ninth Cup and first since 2017. The Heels won titles in 2001 and 2011.

Carolina will face Marshall in Friday’s national semifinal. The Thundering Herd upset No. 1 seed Clemson and defending champion Georgetown to reach its first College Cup.

The other ACC representative, Pitt, is also making its first Cup appearance. The Panthers are the 11th league team to reach the Cup and hope to be the seventh to win a title. Pittsburgh, the No. 2 seed, outscored its three opponents 13-1 to reach this point.

They’ll play No. 3 Indiana on Friday. The Hoosiers are making their 21st Cup appearance and first since 2018. They’ve won eight titles, most recently in 2012, which is the second most in men’s soccer history. Indiana had a scare to open the tourney, getting taken to penalty kicks by St. Francis of Brooklyn. They’ve cruised past Marquette and Seton Hall since.

Both championship games will be held on May 17.