The final tally of the 11-member All-ACC team, as voted upon by the conference's four head coaches, was most telling: five players from Virginia, four from Maryland, two from Duke and zero from UNC.
The message, in the eyes of the Tar Heels, was clear: Nobody else thinks we're any good.
"Everything's motivation in sports," said junior attackman Steven Will. "A guy looks at you wrong, and it's motivation. Having no players on the All-ACC team is huge motivation to try to beat people."
But when motivation and inspiration don't meet up with execution, the result can be a disappointing disaster. And so it went for the fourth-seeded and seventh-ranked Tar Heels in their 10-3 loss to top-seeded and top-ranked Virginia in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament on Friday evening.
The defeat in front of 3,089 at Duke's Koskinen Stadium was its worst of the season and a lesson in frustration for UNC, which dropped to 7-4 and suffered a crushing setback to its hopes of making the NCAA tournament.
"We wanted to come out and show everyone that we can play and that we're a good team," Will said. "It's pretty upsetting, but with an effort like this, you didn't prove anything to anybody."
For the first time this season, the Tar Heels couldn't get anything even remotely resembling momentum going en route to scoring their fewest goals in a game since 1984 and making an early exit from the conference tournament for the sixth consecutive year.
UNC's starting attack unit of Will and freshmen Jed Prossner and Mike McCall were held scoreless on six shots. A large part of that was due to the Cavaliers' defense, which slid in near-perfect harmony to clog the middle passing lanes and force UNC into 22 turnovers.
Virginia defenseman Mark Koontz, playing with a torn left ACL, held Will shotless, and All-ACC goalkeeper Tillman Johnson recorded 14 saves, stopping eight of UNC's 18 first-half shots.
But the Tar Heels didn't help their own cause against the Cavaliers (9-1) by blowing several prime scoring opportunities and sending many of their 32 shots directly at Johnson.
UVa. ran off four straight goals in the first quarter to blow the game open, and though UNC's defense would regroup to turn in a solid effort, highlighted by goalkeeper Paul Spellman's 15 saves, its offense never got anything going.
UNC coach John Haus told his players in their postgame huddle that it was his fault that they didn't play well, and said he accepted full responsibility for the loss when he addressed the media.
"We just didn't execute the offense," Haus said. "We didn't clear space, we didn't dodge hard, we didn't shoot the ball well. But (the Cavaliers) are good."
With the NCAA tournament limited to only 12 teams, the Tar Heels are now virtually assured of not receiving an at-large bid for the fourth consecutive season. They have two games remaining but need several higher-ranked teams to falter down the stretch to propel them into the postseason.
A win against Virginia would have allowed the Tar Heels to control their playoff fate to an extent. The loss, however, was painfully familiar territory for them, especially the seniors.
"We've been in this kind of game since I've been here," said senior midfielder Tim Gosier, who scored the Tar Heels' first goal. "You have one big game, you win that and you're in. So we've always got to fight for our lives, and we always get these chances. And we just didn't do it. I'm very disappointed."
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