Sunday by beating Maryland 13-7.
It was a celebration that carried on for hours. Players chatted, celebrated and soaked in the moment with championship t-shirts on and bits of the championship net around their necks or tied onto their hats.
The players were happy and were celebrating because there was so much to celebrate and be happy for.
They were happy for Megan Ward, who was pulled in match against Penn State early in the first. Caylee Waters, her talented backup, came in, made eight saves and earned the win. Ward shared the net with Waters all season long and after practice before the quarterfinal match against Notre Dame, the senior described her relationship with Waters.
“Caylee and I have a pretty decent partnership,” Ward said “I think we are both very confident in each other’s capabilities, so if someone is having an off day, it is really nice to know that the other one is there to perform.”
Waters was there to save the day on Friday, but Sunday in the national championship, Ward played the
She made 14 saves, creating her own moment in the sun as the hero. For a senior who has sacrificed playing time throughout her career for the good of the team, the opportunity to be in goal and shine during the national championship was priceless.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been at this podium celebrating with my team,” Ward said. “And Caylee got us here as much as I did, and so to be able to win and be in my championship game my senior year, I’m very grateful.”
They were happy for the senior class that won the last game they will ever play in a North Carolina uniform. The group started out as champions when they won the title in 2013 as first-years. Following the win over Notre Dame on May 21, Stephanie Lobb, who was a first-year on the 2013 team, shared what her class was striving for.
“I think for the senior class especially, we came in ending on a great note in Philadelphia,” she said. “We’d like to have a little bit of a bookend and finish with another great end in Philadelphia as well.”
The seniors struggled and fought to have a chance to get back to Philadelphia to feel that feeling again, and they did so with a special 2016 team.
“This team is so special, and we had that special team our freshman year and we felt it from the beginning we got here,” senior Aly Messinger said. “We had the team to win the national championship and that’s what we did.”
North Carolina’s senior class leaves Chapel Hill with 72 wins over four seasons to just 14 losses. And don’t forget the two shiny championship rings, a perfect bookend to a magical career in Carolina blue.
Following the win, North Carolina players and coaches walked out onto the plaza, greeted by hundreds of fans, friends and family welcoming them with hugs and expressions of joy.
The NCAA Championship trophy was out on the table, and there were pictures, so many pictures, taken by adoring fans and proud parents.
They all stayed until the middle of the second half of the women’s lacrosse Division III championship, which was played on the same field UNC had just walked off. Then slowly, the party dwindled down. First the kids and the fans left, then the players gathered their things, headed off to surely continue the festive activities.
Someone carried off the coolers and the tables, and the plaza turned back into being just a plaza.
At the end of the day, that’s really the payoff of winning a championship. It’s not the trophy or the records or the accolades. The rewards of playing on this special 2016 Tar Heel team would have carried with the players for the rest of their lives, win or lose on Sunday.
But the reward of winning the championship is the opportunity to go out and transform a plaza at an MLS stadium in Pennsylvania into the best championship party in the world.