WINSTON-SALEM - It couldn't have happened at a worse time for Caleb Norkus.
Just three days before his North Carolina soccer team would begin play in the ACC tournament, Norkus sprained his left ankle while vying for a head ball in practice.
"I just went up for a head ball, and I came down and my ankle rolled," Norkus said. "I couldn't walk on it Tuesday when I did it."
Despite the injury, no one really considered the sprain serious enough to keep Norkus from playing against Wake Forest on Friday.
But when the match started in the chilly night air, Norkus was keeping warm on the bench while sophomore Mike Gell was on the Spry Stadium field.
UNC coach Elmar Bolowich wanted to rest Norkus and not risk further damage to the ankle, especially against a team the Tar Heels had beaten 4-1 on Oct. 28.
The Demon Deacons, however, didn't afford UNC the luxury of resting their senior forward. Although the Tar Heels peppered Deacon goalkeeper William Hesmer with 15 first-half shots, they went into halftime deadlocked in a scoreless tie.
The score was enough to persuade Bolowich to divert from his earlier plan.
"We came into the locker room at halftime, and I didn't know if I was going to get a chance to play," Norkus said. "Coach wrote my name up on the board, and I was like `Yes!' and I went and got my ankle taped up again.
"I stepped on the field, and I was like, `Come on, guys, come on, guys.' I was just so hyped to be playing."
In the end, Norkus proved to be the difference - both in the Friday match against Wake and in Sunday's championship against Virginia.
Norkus had an immediate impact upon entering the game Friday. UNC began to play a quicker, more direct game, and it eventually broke through the Wake defense in the 68th minute.
Midfielder Michael Bucy collected the ball on the right side of the 18-yard box before footing it left to Norkus. Norkus, ranked ninth nationally in assists before the match, then touched the ball ahead for a streaking Noz Yamauchi. Yamauchi beat Hesmer to the near post for the game-winner.
"I saw three defenders around (Norkus), and I saw an opening," Yamauchi said. "I had a hunch that it might deflect and go that way. The ball got there, and I just tried to put it on the right side of the keeper."
On Sunday, it was Norkus who broke the scoreless tie against the Cavaliers. With the ACC's player of the year, Chris Carrieri, being held in check by an active UVa. defense, Norkus turned in an MVP performance, scoring the golden goal in the 91st minute.
"Certainly our guys picked it up," Bolowich said. "It was wonderful to see for our senior class how we came through."