But in the ACC Championship on Sunday, the Tar Heels could not battle back, dropping the title game 4-2 to No. 7 Virginia.
“There is a great confidence within our team that we know, on any given day, that there are eight teams that can win the national championship — and we are one of those teams,” Coach Karen Shelton said. “You know, we didn’t have it today, but we hope to have it by next weekend.”
UNC has showed resiliency throughout the season, but none more than this weekend. The Tar Heels defense has been bombarded with late-game pressure throughout the ACC Tournament.
Sophomore goalie Alex Halpin totaled four saves Sunday, but her team still faced a 3-1 deficit. It is in times like these that Shelton usually pulls the goalie.
“You never like to do it, we don’t like to get to that point,” Shelton said. “But when you’re two goals down you have to — you have no choice.”
Typically, removing the goalie is a high-risk option that teams turn to only as a last resort. But North Carolina hasn’t hesitated to trade the last line of defense for a more aggressive attack throughout this season.
“I’d say at that point, we’re just focusing on offense,” senior back Kristy Bernatchez said. “Coach said, ‘If we give up another goal, we give up another goal. But we’re gonna go down fighting.’”
The Tar Heels have covered their cage when pulling the goalie most of the season, but the Cavaliers pushed across a crucial insurance goal from a corner after UNC pulled Halpin during a timeout with 12:42 left on the clock.
“We actually had never practiced that, so we were a little thrown off ...” Bernatchez said. “They played it perfectly, put it right in the corner — not much you can do about it.”
Though the game didn’t turn out in their favor today, the Tar Heels remain confident in pulling their goalie as a tactic when playing from behind.
The team manufactured two goals in the ACC Tournament while playing without a goalie, while only ceding one.
“It’s the risk you take to try and get that extra player, that momentum,” Shelton said. “We’ve had great success with it.”
With the pressure and intensity rising with each game, the Tar Heels understand they might have to pull their goalie again this postseason. But there is no hesitation in doing so.
“I trust all the girls on the field,” Halpin said. “We played a joking game, if you had to pick three people on this team to save your life. Without even thinking about it, I picked all my defenders.”
This trust has been growing throughout the season for the transfer Halpin and the tenured defensive line.
The sophomore has started nearly every game since taking over on Sept. 23 when the Tar Heels made a national statement, taking down then-No. 1 Syracuse.
“It’s definitely prepped me a lot for these high-pressure situations,” Halpin said. “ And (the team) as a working machine, I think we are ready for these situations.”