Tar Heels advance to NCAA final for fourth straight year
NORFOLK, Va. — After North Carolina lost to Syracuse 1-0 Sept. 1 in an exhausting overtime game, coach Karen Shelton said she’d rather see her team exposed earlier in the season than later.
When UNC (23-1) faced off against the Orange (19-3) Saturday in the NCAA semifinal game, it was clear it had taken the lessons of that early-season loss — its only defeat of the year — to heart.
The No. 1 Tar Heels ran up a 6-1 tally against the nation’s No. 5 team to advance to the national championship game, which will be played on Sunday against Princeton.
Syracuse’s Lauren Brooks scored the game’s first goal in the eighth minute, but UNC answered with four of its own before the half was over. Senior captain Kelsey Kolojejchick said her team’s ability to overcome that early deficit — and to keep its foot on the gas even with a sizable lead — showed just how far her team had come since the September defeat.
“We hate losing — I don’t want to call it a revenge type of game, but we weren’t going to let it happen again,” Kolojejchick said. “The attitude of the team was really focused, and we were ready to go.”
Syracuse goalkeeper Leann Stiver, whose eight shutouts lead the NCAA, initially frustrated UNC’s attacks, making a number of saves on penalty corners and in close quarters to keep the Tar Heels off the scoreboard. But UNC kept a level head.
“We knew she was going to have some saves,” Shelton said. “That helped us not become frustrated.”
North Carolina equalized just a minute after the Syracuse goal on fast break off of a restart. Kolojejchick dribbled in from the right and passed to Craddock, who tipped the ball to Jaclyn Gaudioso Radvany for the goal.
“I think we were a much different team last time we played them,” Gaudioso Radvany said. “I thought they passed the ball better last time and they were able to capitalize on the middle and pick off our diagonal balls. We also didn’t press as well as we did today.”
An uneventful 20 minutes passed during which both offenses struggled to seize momentum and both defenses played superbly. But in the 32nd minute, Craddock received the ball from Katie Ardrey on a penalty corner and fired from just inside the circle.
Sinead Loughran scored an unassisted goal 24 seconds later, and Craddock capped off the barrage with a hard diagonal shot from the right side of the goal another 38 seconds after that.
It took the Tar Heels just over a minute to score three goals and all but seal their fourth consecutive berth in the national championship game.
Gaudioso Radvany and Craddock added another two insurance goals after halftime, but the story of the second half was UNC’s defense. When ACC defensive Player of the Year Caitlin Van Sickle received a yellow card in the 48th minute and had to sit out for five, the Orange pulled their goalkeeper for an 11th field player to take a two-player advantage. The Tar Heel defense kept its composure and never seemed threatened during or after that spell.
“Syracuse brought out the best in us,” Shelton said. “You get to the final four, you want to play well. We have firepower, but we haven’t seen it explode quite like that. That was great. We want to be peaking at this time.”
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