UCLA 2OT goal knocks off reigning NCAA champ UNC 1-0
Finally, after 101 minutes and 31 seconds of grueling, scoreless play, UCLA sophomore midfielder Taylor Smith dashed downfield, drilled a breakaway shot, rebounded the deflection and scored.
In a fleeting moment of brilliant play, injury-riddled UNC’s hopes of repeating as NCAA women’s soccer champions crumpled in double overtime, 1-0, ending the Tar Heels’ season and 32nd NCAA Tournament appearance.
For the Bruins, revenge was sweet as they advanced to the Final Four this weekend in Cary. They were 0-9 all-time against the Tar Heels, including their only loss this year, 1-0 on Sept. 6. Four times previously they were cast out of the NCAA Tournament by UNC.
That giant sucking sound heard by 1,295 fans for most of the match was two impermeable defenses where offensive attacks went to die, rebuffed by the tenacious play of the backfield bulwarks and goalkeeping magic.
In a case of bitter irony, UNC senior goalie Anna Sieloff set a personal record of seven saves on a night that the one that got away made all the difference.
“We’d been working on that the entire game, just finding the flip pass and making a dangerous run,” said Smith, who took five of UCLA’s 11 shots on the night.
“I saw (midfielder) Sarah (Killion) look up and we made eye contact,” Smith said, knowing the pass was coming. “I had so many chances during the game I just knew I was going to finish this one. I saw the far post was open and just slotted and followed up my shot and finished it.”
Sieloff made a fantastic play to prevent the first kick from scoring.
“The keeper initially made the save, and then it kind of popped up and then I hit it” in the rebounding scrum, Smith said.
“Sometimes the ball bounces your way sometimes it doesn’t. Obviously the UCLA kid fought like a lioness to put that thing in,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said.
Unlike their meeting earlier this season, UNC was without junior defender Caitlin Ball and junior forward Alexa Newfield, both out with season-ending injuries.
Senior ACC Offensive Player of the Year Crystal Dunn did not start, and saw only limited action. Junior midfielder Brooke Elby was injured and taken out of the game. And sophomore midfielder Katie Bowen was taken by stretcher to an ambulance after being injured during play.
“I think she was knocked out for a stretch,” said UNC coach Anson Dorrance. “When I was out there with her she was moving, so I’m encouraged.”
“It was tough seeing her go down like that,” UNC senior forward Kealia Ohai said of Bowen’s injury, which stopped play for more than 20 minutes. “We’re just glad that she’s OK, hopefully. You have to come out on the field and be prepared for anything. You can’t look at that and blame it on that or use that as an excuse” for the loss.
“If I start to address that it would make it seem like I’m just stacking up excuses,” Dorrance said of how the injury list affected the game’s outcome.
“But certainly when you lose quality players it’s harder to compete, and that’s an amazing collection of quality,” Dorrance said.
“One of the silver linings in a collection of injuries is other kids have a chance to shine and play,” Dorrance said, naming Elby in particular for her play in turning the tide against an early, aggressive UCLA onslaught.
“That game should be in the Final Four. That’s a national championship caliber game,” UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said.
“Just to go out like that is very upsetting. UCLA was a great team today and they definitely finished their chance, and it really makes you think all of this hard work is over now and I’m just going to miss the girls,” Dunn said.
“I was just happy to contribute in any way I could. I didn’t play that long but I think for the minutes I was given I tried to channel my energy and my efforts and try to just do whatever I can to get in a great position for my team,” she said.