CARY, N.C. – Nearly a month ago, in the hours after Florida State topped North Carolina in the ACC championship game, FSU coach Mark Krikorian and UNC’s Anson Dorrance exchanged text messages.
“We said, ‘Let’s meet in the (national) final,’” said Dorrance, Carolina’s coach since 1979.
“We actually did. We texted back and forth, and we agreed to meet in the final. And now we are.”
Krikorian’s Seminoles will meet the Tar Heels on Sunday at 1 p.m. here at WakeMed Soccer Park, in an NCAA tournament championship game that might not have much uncertainty between its opponents but that should still boast plenty of intrigue.
Florida State and North Carolina are set to compete for the third time this season, each having claimed one of the previous two matches.
The Tar Heels won, 1-0, in Tallahassee in September, while the Seminoles claimed a 3-2 win in the ACC title game in Cary last month.
The rubber match comes with some seriously high stakes.
“We’re very familiar with each other,” Krikorian said, on the eve of his fourth title game at FSU. “They had success winning the first time. We had success winning the second time.
“So now it’s a matter of us going and taking a look at some of the trends and tendencies of how the game has played out each of the first two times, looking at the ways we’ve improved, but also look at the way they’ve improved.”
FSU’s improvement over the last few weeks is obvious. After an uneven regular season – Krikorian called it “disjointed” – the Seminoles caught fire once the calendar flipped to November.
In the span of just five weeks, beginning with their ACC tournament quarterfinal against Duke on Oct. 28, the Seminoles have reeled off wins over the No. 9 Blue Devils, No.12 Virginia, No. 3 UNC, No. 20 South Florida, No. 6 Southern California and No. 14 Penn State.
That all led to Friday’s College Cup semifinal, when FSU sent No. 1-seed Stanford tumbling out of the tournament with a 2-0 loss, its first defeat in 46 matches.
Four of those programs – UNC, USC, Stanford and Penn State – have combined to win 26 of the 37 awarded women’s college soccer titles.
“Very proud and impressed with Florida State,” Dorrance said after watching the Seminoles beat Stanford. “They were extraordinary.”
Dorrance is both brash and outspoken – he passionately advocated on Saturday for athletics directors across the country to shift money from other sports to soccer – but there’s little doubt that, during his tenure at North Carolina, he’s set the gold standard for women’s soccer.
It may be more accurate to say that he created it.
Dorrance’s Tar Heels won 16 of their sport’s first 20 national titles. Along the way, he coached some of the game’s earliest superstars, including 1999 World Cup standouts Mia Hamm and Kristine Lilly.
But as the game grew, so did the competition.
And that’s where Florida State comes in.
Founded on a professional-style atmosphere and built by turning over stones around the globe in search of talented players, Krikorian’s Seminoles have become a model of elite consistency since he took over in 2005.
FSU’s nine College Cup appearances during his tenure are tied with the most of any school in the country during that span, and a win on Sunday would make Florida State just the sixth school in history to win multiple national titles.
More immediately, Florida State’s nine all-time wins over North Carolina are the most of any school in the country. The Tar Heels have only lost 73 games – ever – and FSU is responsible for 12 percent of those losses.
“I respect them,” Dorrance said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get a little bit better, to challenge them a little bit more.”
That’s how Krikorian planned to spend his Saturday evening – finding a way to get a little bit better.
When two teams are as familiar with each other as FSU and UNC, the outcome likely won’t come as the result of any sweeping changes.
“For me,” Krikorian said, “it’s all about the small details.”
Added FSU forward Deyna Castellanos: “They have their way to play, and we have our way to play.”
Having each claimed a win over the other with their respective styles, both FSU and UNC believe that their approaches can carry them to a victory on Sunday.
Whoever is right will be lifting a championship trophy shortly after 3 p.m.
“Tomorrow is going to be a mystery,” Castellanos said. “Two very good teams playing against each other. Two teams that know each other very well. It’s going to be exciting to play against them.”