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UNC women’s soccer beats Notre Dame in Carolina Nike Classic opener

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UNC women's soccer defeated Notre 2-1 in overtime on Sunday, August 26, 2011.

Through her first three seasons at North Carolina, Courtney Jones witnessed UNC’s veterans come through in tight spots for the Tar Heels time and again, year after year.

But in her senior season, with a captain’s responsibilities on her shoulders, Jones decided Friday night that it was her time to deliver in the clutch.

Jones notched the game-winning goal six minutes into overtime of UNC’s 2-1 victory against No. 1 Notre Dame. The goal sealed the win in a match where the No. 3 Tar Heels were hindered by rain and inexperience.

“I have no delusions or illusions — I thought Notre Dame outplayed us,” North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance said.

“Having said that, I really respect our kids for fighting the whole time. I think as we get healthier, we can start to improve. But let’s face it, a 2-1 victory over the No.1 ranked team and defending national champions is a tremendous achievement for our kids.”

The rematch of last year’s NCAA quarterfinal — a 4-1 Irish victory and UNC’s worst loss since 1985 — packed Fetzer Field to the gills Friday with 5,236 fans.

Ranee Premji sent the fourth-largest home crowd in program history into pandemonium as she gathered the deflection from Jones’ cross at the penalty spot and laced a shot into the bottom left corner of the goal in the 20th minute.

The goal gave UNC a 1-0 advantage it would carry into halftime.

But as both teams came out to start the second half, a Hurricane Irene-fueled deluge engulfed Fetzer Field, inciting both sides to attack via the long ball rather than proper buildup.

The Irish caught a break on one such effort when Jazmin Hall sent a 40-yard lofted cross into the penalty area in the 71st minute. As both Notre Dame striker Adriana Leon and UNC keeper Hannah Daly went up for the cross, the ball skipped off Leon’s head, slipped through Daly’s grasp and trickled into the net to tie the score.

But as Daly crouched at her six-yard box, eyes-at-turf, UNC captain Amber Brooks approached her.

“Stand up,” Brooks said. “We’re not done.”

Sure enough, Daly kept the Tar Heels level down the stretch as she denied a flurry of Irish shots, racking up a career high seven saves in the process.

“What we get out of Hannah is sort of a mixed bag,” Dorrance said. “The goal we gave up obviously was a soft goal, but having said that, the save she made moments later on a drive across the frame I thought was the save of the match.”

Daly’s fine performance forced overtime, where Jones put the game away in the 96th minute.

After Kealia Ohai slotted the ball to her at the top of the 18-yard box, Jones roped a shot toward the left side of the frame and hoped.

“I do this thing whenever I shoot,” Jones said. “Everyone tells me to follow it but for some reason I just stand there and watch it.”

“So, I’m going to be honest, that’s definitely what I did, just praying that the goalkeeper wouldn’t get it.”

Not until after the ball found the left-side netting did Jones sprint, arms raised triumphantly, as she embraced her teammates and listened to the crowd erupt.

“I’ve been a part of two national championships here, and it’s been such an incredible feeling, and I’ve watched seniors ahead of me put on the show,” Jones said.

“(Tonight) I felt like it was finally a chance to be one of them.”

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