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Nov. 3, 2012

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CARY, N.C. — Virginia reached the summit of Atlantic Coast Conference women’s soccer in 2004 and found the view spectacular. The Cavaliers may get to enjoy it again Sunday.

In a sport historically dominated by that school in Chapel Hill, the ACC is about to crown a champion other than North Carolina.

UVa, the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament, vanquished fourth-seeded UNC 1-0 on Sunday. The Cavaliers ousted top-seeded Florida State 4-2 in the semifinals Friday at WakeMed Soccer Park, and now they’ll meet second-seeded Maryland (13-5-2) for the title Sunday at 1 p.m. on the same field.

Maryland blanked third-seeded Wake Forest 2-0 in the second semifinal Friday night.

This is the ACC championship’s 25th year. UNC has captured the crown 20 times. UVa, FSU, Wake and NC State have won one title each. The Cavaliers (15-4-1) are in the championship game for the first time since 2005.

“We’ve had some good teams over the years, and we’ve been awfully close, and you just don’t get these opportunities that much,” UVa coach Steve Swanson said Friday night.

This is Swanson’s 13th season in Charlottesville. “I’ll be honest: When I first came to Virginia, I was a little skeptical about the [ACC] tournament,” he said. “I thought it came at a tough time. You’re trying to gear up for the NCAAs. You’re playing three games in five days against this kind of competition. But when we won it in 2004, you realize this is a special experience for [the players].”

Swanson has special players throughout his lineup this season, none more so than sophomore midfielder Morgan Brian, who delivered a transcendent performance Friday night.

Brian, an All-American for UVa in 2011, was among the standouts on the U.S. team, coached by Swanson, that edged Germany in the under-20 World Cup championship game Sept. 8 in Tokyo.

The World Cup forced Brian to miss Virginia’s first nine games and put her behind in her schoolwork. She played well enough during the regular season, especially near the end, to make the All-ACC first team, but she wasn’t her usual dominating self on the field.

That changed Friday night, when FSU (16-3) saw Brian at her most sublime. Brian, who had an assist in each of the previous three games, scored her first goal of the season in the 10th minute off a through ball from senior forward Erica Hollenberg.

In all her years of playing soccer, Brian acknowledged with a smile after the game, this is the latest in a season that she’s scored her first goal, “but I don’t really care about goals and all that stuff.”

Her primary concern is winning, and Brian’s strike pushed Virginia’s lead to 2-0. The Seminoles rallied and pulled to 2-2 in the 63rd minute, but then Brian took over. First, she slipped a pass from the end line to Hollenberg, who knocked the ball in to make it 3-2 in the 69th minute. Less than two minutes later, Brian’s diving header off a free kick by senior midfielder Julia Roberts put the Wahoos up 4-2.

“I think we’re lucky to have a player of Morgan’s talent,” Swanson said. “She can see the field. She can do more things than just score goals.”

The challenge facing Brian this fall has been significant, Swanson said. “I know more than most what she went through from January on. It’s not easy to go through the kind of rigors that she’s gone through, playing for two teams and traveling around the world.

“I think the hardest thing, probably, was her getting back into school. I think that was tough for her, to come back in, and all of the sudden now, you’re not only playing soccer, you’ve got the demands of the academics on you as well.

“It’s good to see her back, and I think our team’s done a really good job. I think our players, Caroline [Miller] in particular, have done a great job in Morgan’s absence and a great job of integrating her back in. It’s nice to see. I feel like our team’s playing good team soccer and they’re moving the ball well together, and obviously she’s a big part of that.”

The win over the Seminoles, Swanson said, was “just a great effort on our team’s part. That was a good team we beat. It’s not often, obviously, that that team gives up four goals.”

Indeed, FSU allowed more two goals only once during the regular season, in a 3-2 loss at Boston College. Virginia knows well how suffocating the Seminoles’ defense can be.

When the teams met Oct. 14 in Tallahassee, FSU won 1-0 on a penalty kick midway through the first overtime period. In the rematch, senior forward Caroline Miller scored in the fifth minute, off a pass from junior forward Gloria Douglas, to stun the `Noles.

“I think it’s always great to get an early goal, regardless of your opponent,” said Miller, the ACC’s offensive player of the year. “I think it just gave us a little extra fire in that first half.”

Now comes a rematch with Maryland, in a game ESPNU will televise. Of Virginia’s four regular-season losses, the most disappointing might have been to the Terrapins. The teams met Sept. 27 in College Park, and Maryland scored three goals in the final 17 minutes to rally for a 3-1 victory.

“We felt we’ve played pretty consistent most of the year in the ACC,” Swanson said. “We’ve been a little bit unlucky here and there. Shot ourselves in the foot a few times, but we feel like we’re in a good spot heading into this last game. We know it’s going to be tough, but I think we’re pushing hard to bring it home, and I think these players deserve it. They’re playing some good soccer.”

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