CARY — The crowd collectively held its breath as the ball rolled past the goalie and tumbled into the back of the net.
As it inched beyond the line and into the corner of the goal, the ball and the North Carolina women’s soccer team’s season came to its final rest. It was all over. The Tar Heels had been knocked of the NCAA Tournament with a 2-1 overtime loss to Princeton on Sunday in the Sweet 16. It was just the 13th NCAA loss in program history.
“Pretty gut wrenching to lose in the Sweet Sixteen, but this team accomplished something,” redshirt senior Joanna Boyles said. “We won an ACC Championship, we were the No. 2 seed in the tournament, and I think we just need to hold our heads up high."
The game didn’t begin the way the Tar Heels (17-3-2) had hoped. In the fourth minute, an attempted clearance by goalie Samantha Leshnak rebounded off a Princeton forward and into the net, instead of soaring onto the other side of the field. Though head coach Anson Dorrance’s program boasts an aggressive offense, the Tigers (16-2-1) looked more ready to play in the opening minutes.
The Tar Heels responded in the 25th minute. After Zoe Redei and Dorian Bailey pushed the ball down field, Bridgette Andrzejewski broke away from the defense and fired a shot through the legs of the goalie. After a less than ideal start, the early game mistake was erased, and the game could go in any direction.
“They came into the game with a seriousness and we could feel it,” Dorrance said. “Having said that, I liked our response after they scored to get back in it.”
The Tar Heels held a 24-9 shot lead throughout the game, and looked at several moments like they might take over the lead for good. They took eight shots on goal, but to no avail — the Princeton goalie came up with six saves, sending the game into overtime.
In the 88th minute, Boyles just missed on a game-winning shot that banged off the crossbar. They couldn’t seem to overcome the destiny that awaited.
“It’s unfortunate the ball didn’t go our way today,” Boyles said. “Soccer is a cruel game.”
Sunday’s loss closed out the careers of six seniors: Boyles, Maya Worth, Megan Buckingham, Cannon Clough, Frances Reuland and Abby Elinsky. They are now the second straight class — and just the second in program history — to graduate without winning a national championship. But they won’t leave Chapel Hill without plenty of accolades.
The senior class was a part of an ACC Tournament Championship this season and a trip to the Final Four a year ago. The true seniors will leave with a record of 63-16-8 over their collegiate careers.
The 2017 season was as important to Boyles as it was for any senior. After tearing her ACL twice the past two years, she wasn’t sure what was in store for her final season.
“This season was pretty special for me. I wasn’t sure how it would go,” she said. “Just for me to be out here and be playing, it was pretty special. I have no regrets and I’m unbelievably proud of what (this program’s) accomplished.”
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