“The early goal I think set us back,” Shelton said.“We always talk about trying to land the first blow. And when you get punched in the nose, your eyes water a little bit.”
Syracuse continued pressuring UNC throughout the first half, netting another goal in the 18th minute to give the Orange a 2-0 lead heading into intermission.
“At halftime we just said, ‘You’ve got to go for it. It’s the national championship game, you’ve got to fight,’” Shelton said. “‘Who cares if you lose, but go down swinging.’”
The Tar Heels came out of the break inspired. Sophomore Gab Major — UNC’s leading scorer — notched a goal less than three minutes into the second half, and first-year Malin Evert knotted the score in the 56th minute.
“This is our last game of season, but we need to think about the seniors — this is their last game ever ...” junior Julia Young said.
“I think they were the biggest motivator for all of us.”
The Tar Heels seemed to capture the proverbial pendulum of momentum — but the Orange swung back, scoring a goal three minutes later.
Two minutes later, UNC pulled junior goalie Shannon Johnson to gain an offensive advantage. Moments later, Syracuse struck again — securing a 4-2 lead and a national championship.
“Obviously it stinks losing and there’s no way around it,” senior captain Emily Wold said. “But this has been by far the most incredible season ... in my fours years here.”
The loss marked the final game for UNC’s graduating class — seniors Casey Di Nardo, Nina Notman and Wold, along with redshirt junior Rachel Black — which accounted for 43 percent of the team’s goals this year and reached the Final Four in each of the past four seasons.
“Our seniors have helped set a tone and set a culture that (the team has) embraced,” Shelton said.
Young, who has flourished this season as a defensive leader, described the seniors as “more like a family” and expressed how influential the senior class has been for the younger members of the team.
Despite their departure, Wold is confident in the her teammates’ future success.
“It’s just so amazing to see the growth and development from each player,” she said. “I can’t wait to watch ... in the years to come what UNC is going to do. I know there will be a championship soon. One is coming.”