UNC loses rare ACC tournament game

Updated: October 31, 2011, 11:18 AM ET
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

The University of North Carolina began winning ACC tournament games in women's soccer before any player on the current roster was born.

The Tar Heels didn't lose one during the run of play until Sunday afternoon.

Florida State's Jessica Price scored with a little more than five minutes remaining in the second overtime period at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C., to give the Seminoles a 1-0 win against No. 11 North Carolina in an ACC tournament quarterfinal. The loss for the Tar Heels on their home field ended a 62-match unbeaten streak in the conference tournament that dated back to the event's inception in 1988. During the streak, North Carolina compiled a 58-0-4 record. Games decided by penalty-kick shootouts count as ties in the official records.

This year in the ACC,
it's just freaking terrifying.
It's a gauntlet.

-- UNC coach Anson Dorrance

Between 1988 and 2009, the Tar Heels reached 22 ACC championship games in a row and won 20 titles. They didn't miss a final until last year, when Wake Forest eliminated them in a semifinal shootout.

The unbeaten streak wasn't the only history affected by Price's goal off a corner kick, the ball appearing to just barely cross the line before North Carolina goalkeeper Anna Sieloff could control it following an initial save and scramble in front of goal.

North Carolina fell to 11-5-1 this season with the loss, its third in a row. It's the first time the Tar Heels ever lost as many as five games in a season and just the fifth time they lost more than two games in a season.

The timing of the milestones piling up one atop another has something to do with a team that has struggled to score goals this season, at least by North Carolina standards -- the Tar Heels still ranked 32nd in the nation in goals per game as of last week. But it also speaks to a sport rising to the challenge coach Anson Dorrance's program set for 30 years.

Not surprisingly, it's the schools most familiar with losing to North Carolina that are getting there first. Virginia got its first ever win against the Tar Heels this season and did it in Chapel Hill. Virginia Tech only made the ACC tournament because it was able to beat the Tar Heels for the second time in three years -- and the second time ever.

[+] EnlargeAnson Dorrance
Jeffrey A. CamaratiUNC coach Anson Dorrance said he's relieved when one of his team's long winning streaks is broken.
The Tar Heels' 62-game unbeaten streak in the ACC tournament ended Sunday.

Although dominated historically by North Carolina, the ACC is widely regarded as the best women's soccer conference in the country. Nine teams are ranked in the RPI top 30, including four of the top five.

"This year in the ACC, it's just freaking terrifying," Dorrance said recently. "It's a gauntlet."

Streaks have to end in a world like that, whether more than two decades without a loss in the conference tournament or 25 years without losing a game by more than a goal, a streak that came to an end in last season's NCAA tournament loss against Notre Dame. Nobody understands that better than Dorrance, left to defend history with a team that has enough on its hands in dealing with the present.

"We don't like those damn things because they scare the heck out of us," Dorrance said a little more than a week before Sunday's loss. "The only streak I really liked that was finally broken was 26 years, losing by a maximum of one goal. That, in my opinion, is one of the things I've been most proud of -- and when that thing was finally broken, I was relieved.

"But that was a pretty good run, 26 years of always being in it until the last second. That was kind of cool."

One more streak came to an end Sunday for the most successful program in women's college soccer. That's the new reality for North Carolina in a world in which there are too many good players and too many good teams for one program to ever again dominate any conference, let alone the nation's best conference, for more than two decades.

A world North Carolina has only itself to thank for creating, which is a better legacy than any streak.

Graham Hays covers women's college soccer and softball for ESPN.com. Email him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.