Tar Heels Win 21st NCAA Championship.
The UNC Tar Heels exploded for three second-half goals to hand Penn State a 4-1 loss in the NCAA Division I College Cup championship game. The game was played before a crowd of 6,930 fans at Torero Stadium on the campus of the University of San Diego Sunday afternoon.
Coach Anson Dorrance has now led his team to 21 NCAA crowns and one AIAW (pre-NCAA) title in the 31-year history of the program.
UNC was led in the championship game by tournament Most Outstanding Offensive Player Kealia Ohai, who scored in the opening minute of the game, and Most Outstanding Defensive Player Satara Murray, who assisted on Ohai’s goal and then scored one of her own to give the Tar Heels separation at 3-1 in the second half.
Murray’s remarkable accomplishment was all the more astounding for the fact she had never recorded a goal or an assist in any game heading into the title game while starting for two years on defense. Toss in a game-winning goal in the opening minute of the second half from freshman defender Hanna Gardner and big-time senior performances from Amber Brooks, Alyssa Rich, goalkeeper Adelaide Gay and Ranee Premji and it was a fitting end to the Tar Heel season which had many ups and downs.
In the national final, Ohai picked up right where she left off in Friday’s NCAA semifinal game when she scored a golden goal in the 105th minute to lift the Tar Heels past top-ranked Stanford 1-0. Just 1:11 into the title game, she scored her team-leading ninth goal of the season.
Penn State, which finished 21-4-2, was resilient, however, but wasted a couple of great scoring opportunities early. The Nittany Lions broke through for the tying strike in the 19th minute. Christine Nairn had time and space to feed a ball to Taylor Schram on the left wing and the PSU forward shot over Tar Heel goalie Gay to finish into the far corner at 18:24.
Dorrance immediately switched from Carolina’s usual 3-4-3 formation to a 4-2-3-1 and the tactical switch proved crucial to UNC’s eventual success.
Carolina started the second half in the 4-2-3-1 and that shape did not allow another Penn State shot until the 70:45 mark, giving the Lions just one shot between the 19th minute of the game and the 71st minute. Meanwhile, UNC has struck twice off of corner kicks to claim a 3-1 lead.
That Carolina would score twice off corners was ironic as it had tallied only three goals off 148 corner kicks coming into the game.
The Tar Heels ended any doubt as to the outcome in the 75th minute as senior Ranee Premji came off the bench to score her fourth goal of the season at 74:18. Dunn set up the goal with a run to the end line on the left wing, centering the ball to the Canadian international Premji for a one-touch putaway.
Carolina finished its season 15-5-3 overall after being 5-3-2 on September 27 coming off a 1-0 loss to then top-ranked Florida State. But after that loss to the Seminoles, Carolina ran went 10-2-1 the rest of the way. After a 1-0 loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals on October 28, a game in which the Cavaliers dominated play, the Tar Heels had 13 days to get ready for the NCAA Tournament and it showed their preparation was adroit as they went on a six-game run to win the title.
No team in history had survived three NCAA Tournament overtime games to win the crown and Carolina did just that against Baylor in the third round, BYU in the quarterfinals and Stanford in the semifinals.
The five losses by UNC are the most ever for an NCAA champion. UNC had gone 21-3 in 2000 and 23-3-1 in 2009 in winning NCAA crowns and Southern California was 23-3 when it won the championship in 2007.
Carolina three-goal margin of victory was the largest in an NCAA final since 2005 when Portland blanked UCLA 4-0 and the largest separation for Carolina in an NCAA title game since 2003 when the Heels beat Connecticut 6-0.
Many Carolina players —Ohai, Dunn, Katie Bowen, Bryane Heaberlin and Summer Green — missed large chunks of the season with national team commitments and starting center back Caitlin Ball also missed 10 games with an injury. Add to that the fact two-year starting left back Megan Brigman was lost for the season four minutes into the season opener at Portland and Dorrance alluded to the reality that it took this Carolina team a while to find its chemistry.