It is tough to think of a regular season game bigger than the one Miami played on Thursday night.
The Hurricanes hosted the nation’s No. 1 team, which just happened to be their archrival, Florida State. It was also senior night at Cobb Stadium, and Miami needed a win to qualify for the ACC Tournament.
Led by the fantastic play of junior Tara Schwitter, Miami (9-6-3, 4-4-2 ACC) rose to the challenge, outplaying the top-ranked Seminoles (15-2, 8-2) en route to a 1-0 victory, with the lone goal coming in the 89th minute.
“It’s the first time any of these players have been to the ACC Tournament,” coach Tom Anagnost said. “I mean, we just beat the number one team in the country. The kids were fabulous. They played – they executed exactly how they’re supposed to and the effort was extraordinary, and I am as proud as I’ve been since I’ve been here, as I just told them.”
In addition to playing the nation’s No. 1 team, two UM starters – senior Ali Brennan and sophomore Maddie Simms – were suspended due to a fight during the team’s upset win over Maryland. They joined a long list of Canes who have missed games this season, mostly due to injury.
“They’ve been ready to go, and with us, we try to get them comfortable in their role and the kids have adapted really well,” Anagnost said of adjusting to new lineups this season. “If these kids are focused, and they try real hard, we’re a really good team.”
Watching how UM played the Seminoles, there was no doubting that assessment. The Canes had numerous scoring chances in the first half, including a free kick by Schwitter that drew an outstanding diving save from FSU goalkeeper Kelsey Wys, along with a header from senior Jordan Roseboro that rolled over the crossbar.
It seemed Miami might have lost its opportunity by not converting in the first session, as the second was much more even. However, UM broke through and scored the game winner with 78 seconds left. Schwitter played a through ball to freshman Ashley Flinn, who was making a run from the right side of the field and calmly slid the ball home.
“The goalie actually got a hand on it and it was rolling really slow into the goal and I was just – we were just sitting there hoping it was going to go in, and when it did, it was a great feeling,” Flinn said. “Especially with one of our seniors not able to play this last game, there was nothing the team wanted more than to give her another opportunity out on the field.”
The victory sent the Hurricanes into the ACC Tournament, the first time UM has qualified since 2008.
“Words can’t explain what it means. This is my third year, and we’ve been so close the past two years,” Schwitter said. “We’re always like right at the borderline with Virginia Tech, so it feels good to finally be a couple points ahead of them and get into the ACC Tournament.”
Miami ended up suffering a 2-1 overtime loss to Maryland in the quarterfinals of the tournament on Sunday. However, Flinn said Thursday that she thought the FSU win would put the Canes in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year.
“We were a little worried,” she said. “We didn’t have as good of a preseason as we did last year, so we weren’t sure if we were going to even make the NCAA Tournament without this win, so this was a huge win for us.”
Miami will learn its postseason fate when the field is announced on Nov. 5.