UNC gained its 2-1 first half advantage only after conceding the first goal.
In the 12th minute, Virginia’s Montana Sutton redirected a long cross into the UNC goal box towards her teammate. Her header bounced between two UNC defenders, who struggled to clear the ball, and it ultimately landed back at Sutton’s feet.
“I saw two defenders going after the same ball to clear, and I think they collided with each other a bit,” said Dorrance. “It was a stupid clearance. The ball was still in finishing range of the goal and Virginia hammered it into the left corner.”
UNC’s high-pressing attack soon erased that advantage.
In the 24th minute, UNC forward Bridgette Andrzejewski battled two defenders at the top of the box and laid off a leading pass for forward Alessia Russo, who was crashing in on the left. Russo’s strike deflected off a Virginia defender and snuck by the goalkeeper on the left side of the net.
Feeding off the energy of the first goal, UNC struck again four minutes later.
Dorian Bailey — who scored the game winning goal in UNC’s last two games against Florida State and Clemson — worked her magic again. Completing a give-and-go with Andrzejewski, Bailey received the ball about six yards from the goal and floated a beautiful finish right over the keeper’s head.
“I just can’t believe how well she’s playing right now,” said head coach Anson Dorrance. “I just had a chat and told her her game has gone to a completely different level.”
While UNC was able to apply pressure to Virginia’s defense and play an attacking style the first half, fatigue affected the Tar Heels in the second.
“(In) the second half, our legs were absolutely shot,” said Dorrance. “I think the investment we put towards beating a very good Clemson team sent us over the edge physically.”
As a result, Virginia pinned the Tar Heels in their own half of the field for most of the rest of the game.
“Virginia came out in the second half like they were shot out of a cannon,” said Dorrance. “I give Virginia full credit because we struggled to do anything against them in the second half.”
Despite UNC’s fatigue and Virginia’s aggressiveness, UNC was able to hold on for the win, thanks in large part to goalie Samantha Leshnak.
In the 58th minute, Leshnak erased what looked to be a sure goal for Virginia. Coming off the heels of an extended period of Virginia possession and several chances on offense, Taryn Torres bullied her way past two North Carolina defenders and faced a one-on-one with Leshnak in the middle of the box. The Tar Heel goalie was decisive, acting aggressively and leaving the goal to dive at the feet of Torres and steal the ball.
That proved to be Virginia’s last chance.
Dorrance was happy with his team’s performance at the end of the game.
“I thought it was a wonderful team effort,” he said, “And I think we had a lot of contributors.”