Just nine days later, Loughran returned to UNC’s lineup in the first round of the NCAA championships, and Sunday, the Dublin, Ireland, native helped UNC beat the Demon Deacons to advance to the Final Four in Loughran’s final appearance at Henry Stadium.
“It’s just remarkable that she was able to come back in one week’s time and play with a broken hand,” coach Karen Shelton said. “A lot of times, senior leadership is so important, and when it’s your last game of your career (at home), there’s a certain urgency.
“You can’t hold a competitor off the field with a little thing like a broken bone in your hand.”
Sitting out the rest of the ACC Tournament made sense. After all, the NCAA Tournament meant much more to her and the Tar Heels, Loughran decided. She and the trainers agreed that taking a week off would allow the bone to heal, however much that’s possible in seven days.
When Loughran took the field Saturday against Delaware, she sported an orthoplast, a hard shell molded to her hand and held together with “a lot of tape,” she said.
“Oh my god, I don’t know how she does it,” midfielder Nina Notman said, laughing. “She’s such a fighter, and I think you can see it in the game. Her hustle is amazing, and I think that’s what makes her personality.”
Gripping her stick proved fairly difficult, Loughran said. But orthopedists assured her that the routine bumps and nudges of field hockey wouldn’t inflict any more damage on her broken bone.
“Even if it falls and displaces, I don’t care,” she said. “I can get surgery after the season. It’s my senior year — I’m not giving up because of this.”
Three weeks ago, Loughran suffered a concussion and missed UNC’s Oct. 23 game against Lockwood.
“It hasn’t been the best end to my senior year,” she said with a laugh.
Loughran’s mother flew to Chapel Hill to watch her play, but instead spent a game alongside her daughter on the sidelines.
Her family flew to Chapel Hill again this weekend to see Loughran take the Henry Stadium turf one last time.
Loughran simply had to play.
“I was determined to get out there and do the best that I can for my family because they’ve given me this opportunity,” she said.
Loughran gave her family and her teammates a little more than an inspirational tale. In Sunday’s game, Loughran sprung several fast-break opportunities during UNC’s 5-2 win, and Shelton said the midfielder provided a spark off the bench for the Tar Heels.
With her trusty orthoplast and natural adrenaline to ease the pain, Loughran heads with UNC to next weekend’s Final Four.
“For me and for all the seniors, and even the returning players, the Final Four is the epitome of your career,” Loughran said. “You want to make it there. It’s the icing on the cake.
“I’m just so proud of my team and so proud to be a part of this program that we’ve managed to reach that,” she said. “But it’s not over yet.”
Nor is it over for Loughran’s right hand. It will be along for the ride in Norfolk, Va., broken bone and all.