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The Daily Tar Heel

Luck runs out for UNC women's soccer in 1-0 loss to West Virginia

Sophomore defender Julia Ashley (16) goes up for a header against West Virginia on Friday. The Tar Heels fell 1-0 in the NCAA semifinal. 

Sophomore defender Julia Ashley (16) goes up for a header against West Virginia on Friday. The Tar Heels fell 1-0 in the NCAA semifinal. 

Heading into 2016, a trio of true seniors — Cameron Castleberry, Sarah Ashley Firstenberg and Darcy McFarlane — were in danger of becoming the only players in UNC history to play four years in Chapel Hill without winning a national championship. At the season’s outset, there was little hope they would avoid breaking the streak.

“If you saw this team in August, you would have been horrified at our level,” Dorrance said.

The Tar Heels relied on a handful of first-years and former reserves to carry the team early. But four months later, there they were — playing No. 1 West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.

North Carolina reversed its fortunes, but the luck ran dry against the Mountaineers. In a game of limited chances, the Tar Heels fell, 1-0, in San Jose on Friday.

The game began on a low note for the Tar Heels (17-4-4), as McFarlane overextended on a slide tackle and injured her hamstring in the 23rd minute. She wouldn’t return to the game.

“I don’t know if it’s torn all the way or what, but luckily we have a lot of good center mids on our team ...” she said. “They didn’t need me, but I think everyone played really well.”

McFarlane was one of several UNC players who missed time in 2015 with a torn ACL. She played limited minutes at the beginning of the season, but her leadership was crucial to the Tar Heels’ mid-season turnaround.

Back in September, North Carolina lost back-to-back games to Southern California and N.C. State. With its season on the line, the team turned to McFarlane and its other seniors for guidance.

“We could have had rats deserting the sinking ship and we could have spiraled straight down,” Dorrance said. “And we did the opposite. We took responsibility, we made some changes and we came soaring out of there like hawks.”

The Tar Heels dropped one game the rest of the regular season. They made it to the ACC Tournament finals. And, prior to Friday, they hadn’t allowed a goal in NCAA Tournament play.

Unfortunately for UNC, West Virginia (23-1-2) was also stout defensively. In the first half Friday, it held North Carolina without a shot — something no opponent had done since Duke on Sept. 2.

“In the first half we just weren’t looking to shoot,” said junior midfielder Megan Buckingham. “And at halftime we talked about it. The only way we’re going to score is if we get a shot off.”

The talk seemed to work, as UNC tallied two shots and earned two corner kicks in the first six minutes of the second half. But the momentum didn’t turn into a goal, and 25 minutes later the Tar Heels ran into bad luck again.

After a foul gave West Virginia a free kick in the 74th minute, the ball found its way to the Mountaineers’ Michaela Abam, who created space in the box.

North Carolina keeper Lindsey Harris cheated a little to her right, anticipating a cross into the middle of the box. Instead, Abam hammered the ball toward the near post.

Harris had been UNC’s most consistent player all season, several times keeping her team in games it had no business being in. But as the ball surged toward the top-right corner, the redshirt senior couldn’t get enough on her punch to keep it out of the back of the net.

As demoralizing as it was, the goal was a wake-up call for the Tar Heels. Less than three minutes later, Bridgette Andrzejewski waited in the box for a cross from Maya Worth. Andrzejewski, the ACC Freshman of the Year, couldn’t keep her shot on frame.

UNC got an even easier chance less than two minutes later. First-year forward Madison Schultz — who carried UNC late in the season with five game-winning goals in eight games — found herself alone five yards from goal, waiting for the ball to fall to her left foot. When it did, the normally clinical first-year blasted the ball high.

Afterward, she fell to the ground in disbelief.

"(Madison)’s certainly done a lot of really great things, and that won’t be the thing that we remember about her from this season,” McFarlane said. “I think you give her 99 other chances at that and she puts it away. But that’s the game of soccer. It doesn’t always go your way.”

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That was the last solid chance UNC had at a goal. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the picture of a dream season was painted over by images of missed chances — the legacies of North Carolina’s three true seniors sullied by their inability to secure another title.

The Tar Heels’ 2016 season was carried by good luck. But when they most needed it, luck — and their championship hopes — disappeared.