RALEIGH — Kealia Ohai sprinted around N.C. State’s soccer field for 45 minutes and came up empty. But all it took was one play in the second half to vindicate her effort.
Throughout the first half of the North Carolina women’s soccer team’s 4-1 win against the Wolfpack on Thursday, Ohai put heavy pressure on the N.C. State defense and goalie — but got nothing to show for it.
In the second half, Ohai finally ran herself into a goal. It turned out to be the game-winner.
“In our system, if things aren’t going the way we want them to, we just pressure,” Ohai said. “If nothing else, you can run and you can pressure and that’s going to make a difference.”
With UNC down 1-0 early to the Wolfpack, Ohai took it upon herself to try to make something happen. Almost every time N.C. State played a ball back to its defenders, Ohai would immediately give chase.
Multiple times, Ohai followed the ball from defender to defender and eventually to the goalkeeper until the ball was picked up — all at a full sprint. But nothing came of it, and at halftime the Tar Heels still trailed 1-0.
Finally, UNC tied the game in the second half on a goal from Ohai. That one came as a result of timing play, not sprinting.
With just more than 10 minutes left in the game, midfielder Ranee Premji took the ball and cleared it straight down the middle, leaving it to Ohai to run it down.
“I was just clearing it out, and I knew that our forwards were on their back line, so I was just trying to get it over the back line,” Premji said. “And it helps a lot when (the pressure) starts with the striker.”
Ohai, lingering just in front of the N.C. State back line, waited for kick and immediately took off down the field.
In seconds, Ohai was past the two defenders — who looked like they were running in slow motion as she blew by them — with nothing but open field, the ball and the goalie in front of her.
The keeper tried to run out — about halfway to midfield — to cut the ball off, but Ohai was just too fast. Ohai got to the ball first, dribbled around the diving goalie and took a controlled shot from long range.
All the Wolfpack could do — as the crowd went dead silent — was watch the ball slowly bounce into the middle of the net, giving UNC a 2-1 lead.
One successful sprint was all it took for Ohai to make up for the wasted energy of the first half.
“She’s relentless,” coach Anson Dorrance said. “She wants to play 90 minutes at a sprint, and you know that she can.”
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