COLLEGE PARK, Md. - It wasn't supposed to be like this.
The two teams didn't expect it. The media certainly didn't, and the fans in the stands of Maryland's Artificial Turf Stadium didn't even know the rules.
But as North Carolina sweeper Abby Martin would fittingly say after the Tar Heels lost 2-1 to ninth-ranked Virginia in the ACC field hockey tournament semifinals, "Anything can happen. And it did."
Anything in this case was a Virginia team that had barely made it to the semifinals, needing overtime to beat fifth-seeded Duke. The Cavaliers hadn't beaten the Tar Heels in five years, and UNC's play this season proved that it earned its No. 2 national ranking.
Behind the gutsy play of senior goalkeeper Becky Worthington, Virginia pushed the Tar Heels hard and forced them into two overtime periods and two rounds of penalty strokes.
UNC and Virginia each converted four of their five opportunities in the first round. Virginia jumped to a 2-1 edge against Tar Heel goalkeeper Amy Tran in the second round before sealing the victory on a Carrie Goodloe shot.
"I didn't think when we went to the new overtime period that we'd ever get to penalty strokes," Shelton said. "I consider it a miscalculation on my part that I didn't prepare my team better for penalty strokes."
Shelton's miscalculation is understandable, considering that the Tar Heels dominated the game. They had 20 shots to Virginia's nine and drew 13 corners to the Cavaliers' six.
But the only numbers that matter are how many goals a team gets.
With the second half less than a minute old, Virginia stole possession from UNC and drove deep into the Tar Heels' territory.
The ball was knocked into the circle and amid the chaos Virginia's Katie Slocum barely touched the ball and directed it slowly into the Tar Heel net.
UNC jumped onto the board on its third penalty corner of the game. Martin took a pass from back Jana Toepel and dribbled it a few yards deeper into the circle before shooting the ball past Worthington.
That was the only time the Tar Heels would trip up Worthington. She finished the game with 11 saves.
"I think we had our chances - a lot of chances - and we need to capitalize on those opportunities when we get them," Shelton said.
UNC was able to string together several threats, but Virginia's defense stopped it once it got in the circle.
On one scoring opportunity, Martin charged hard up the right side of the field, passed to Toepel to avoid a UVa. defender and accepted the ball back 10 feet later. Martin drove into the Cavalier circle but lost control of the ball quickly.
"As Virginia has always, they have a low defense, and they played a great defense inside their 25," Martin said. "We were not able to penetrate the circle a whole lot. They were shutting down Jana Toepel, which is a lot of our attack on the right side."
With the Cavaliers all over the Tar Heels once they pushed into the scoring circle, UNC's best opportunity to regain the lead came on, ironically, a penalty stroke in the first overtime.
Martin lined up against Worthington and shot the ball to her right - and right into Worthington's outstretched right glove.
Neither the Tar Heels nor the Cavaliers could score on any of their opportunities and were forced into the strokes.
"It's kind of fun," Tran said of penalty strokes. "You're in the spotlight; you can try to be the hero. Sometimes you're not."
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