North Carolina was playing in the championship game Sunday for the 17th time in school history. The Tar Heels last won in 2009 and finished as the NCAA runner-up four times: 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015. The team, especially its senior leaders, wanted nothing more than to win another one for its coach after so much heartbreak.
“Coach has been unbelievable,” redshirt senior Emma Bozek said. “And our whole team has talked about how that was one of the people we wanted to play for today.”
“She definitely, out of anyone, really deserved this win. And we all wanted it for her.”
Nauck scored a goal less than 10 minutes into the game for Delaware to put UNC on its heels early. With momentum on their side, the Blue Hens pushed across a second goal before halftime to put North Carolina in a 2-0 hole.
At intermission, the Tar Heels believed they could still win it — led by the passion of their senior captains: Bozek, Julia Young and Lauren Moyer.
“That was our whole halftime speech,” Bozek said. “‘You’ve got to believe. You’ve got to know that we can do this.’ And we came back and we tied up the game.”
Moyer stepped up in a big way, as she had all season as the Tar Heels’ emotional leader. She found the back of the cage less than three minutes after the break to cut the Hens lead in half. It was her 24th goal this season, nearly tripling the total for any of her teammates.
She knew the Tar Heels could come back from a two-goal deficit — the team had done it against Louisville two weeks earlier. The Tar Heels fell behind 2-0 in that game and fought back to advance in the ACC Tournament.
“Knowing we can crawl back, even when we’re down, it’s nice to know we have that ability,” Moyer said after the win over Louisville.
The title-game comeback was completed when first-year Megan DuVernois scored in the 63rd minute off an assist from Malin Evert. The game was tied 2-2, and the Tar Heels were right back in it.
But Nauck came up big again for Delaware in the 65th minute. Her second goal of the day delivered the Blue Hens a national championship.
Taylor Lister knocked a pass from UNC first-year Eef Andriessen out of the air and found Nauck in the circle. The sophomore did the rest, finding the back of the cage to put Delaware back on top.
“I can see that pretty clearly,” Shelton said. “(Lister) made a great play and I think it was a big mistake in our backfield to make a — facing your own goal — a backhand pass like that.”
The Tar Heels were chasing redemption all season long. They got some, defeating then-top-ranked Syracuse earlier in the season and beating Connecticut — the team that knocked them out in 2013 — in the national semifinal.
But they ended up just short.
“I think in the beginning of the season, we struggled to play with heart,” redshirt junior Sam Night said. “And I think today, we did play with heart, and the technical things were maybe what failed us.”
After the game, Shelton sat with Night and Bozek, whose careers at UNC had come to an end. Outside, Delaware’s fans and players were celebrating on the field.
The trio, each tired from battle and teary-eyed after defeat, shared a hug.