Men’s soccer hopes to beat UNC again, this time with their season on the line

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Men’s soccer hopes to beat UNC again, this time with their season on the line

Brandon Sans

Brandon Sans, Assistant Sports Editor

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Fresh off a win in the opening round of the 2017 NCAA tournament, the UNC Wilmington men’s soccer team (12-7) will turn its focus to one of the top teams in the country with the reassurance the Seahawks can beat them on Sunday because of one reason.

They already have.

“They know we’re going to come up there and compete,” said forward Julio Moncada. “It’s going to be a different game, but we’re working hard to get the same result.”

In UNCW’s 1-0 win over then-No. 3 North Carolina (14-3-1) on Sept. 1, it not only beat one of last year’s College Cup semi-finalists but put the Seahawks on the national stage, ranking them in national polls the following week.

The Seahawks, with 21 upperclassmen on their roster, were set to have the best season in program history – even better than that 16-3-5 record and NCAA tournament appearance in 2009, or the 2014 team that also made it to the second round of the national tournament.

That hope faded as the season progressed. UNCW went 3-5 during one stretch and collapsed in the Colonial Athletic Association championship game against William & Mary last Sunday.

But with Thursday’s 1-0 win over Presbyterian in the NCAA Tournament, courtesy of Moncada’s goal 47 seconds into extra time, and the Tribe’s loss to Columbia the same night, the Seahawks remain as the CAA’s lone representative on the national stage.

It’s the position UNCW expected to be in back in September after beating UNC, so it’s only fitting they meet again with its season on the line.

“We try to schedule teams to play the top programs,” said coach Aidan Heaney. “There’s no hesitation or fear factor. Obviously, there will be nerves, but we don’t fear going into Chapel Hill the way UNCW would’ve maybe ten years ago.”

A win for UNCW would mean advancing to the third round for the first time ever, while UNC is no stranger to the tournament. 2017 is UNC’s 17th appearance in 18 seasons, with six College Cup appearances and national championship victories in 2001 and 2011.

Thus, it would mean each program has a different benchmark for success. The Seahawks do not know what the pressure is like beyond round two, while the Tar Heels are still in the “expected-to-be-here” portion of their season.

Make no mistake about it, the Seahawks expected to be here too. That came into doubt late in the year, but they find themselves with an opportunity to flip the script again and accomplish something beyond winning one NCAA Tournament game.

“This is what you recruit these guys to come here and do,” said Heaney. “The ambition of the program is to win CAA championships and win at the national level.”

That may have been good enough in 2014, but this season was never about morale-boosting wins or adhering to standards based on past seasons. After beating North Carolina earlier this year, the Seahawks realized there was only one goal that mattered to them.

“We have really talented players at every position,” said Moncada. “We take it one game at a time. I think we can compete for a national championship.”

Assistant Sports Editor Brandon Sans can be found on Twitter @bsans10. Any tips or suggestions should be forwarded via email to uncwseahawksports@gmail.com. For video updates from The Seahawk, subscribe to our YouTube channel.