And they didn’t lose again. Twenty-three games later, the Tar Heels did not just achieve a perfect season — they did so in dominating fashion, outscoring the opposition by a 103-16 margin.
The unblemished mark for the team was not just about talent. It was about the formula that head coach Karen Shelton and her coaches set out for their team.
“I just think it shows what an amazing job our coaches did, making sure we stayed humble and weren't overconfident,” Evert said. “Don’t take anything for granted, don’t go into any games underestimating any opponent, so I think our coaches did a great job of telling us we have to work hard and that we have to put all the effort in to be at the top at the end.”
But for the team to fully buy into that strategy from the coaching staff, it would take more than their words. It meant the senior class would have to lead the way. With Hoffman at the helm, they did.
“Ashley Hoffman has been a leader since day one …” Shelton said. “We’ve got Eva van’t Hoog, she’s awesome in the midfield. Malin Evert — she’s been with us. I have the strongest midfield in the nation by far and Eva and Malin are part of that midfield. Ashley anchors the back. The rest of the seniors, it’s just been an amazing year for us.”
It was a historic season in many ways. Playing in the team’s new facility named after its head coach, the Tar Heels bulldozed their competition, winning two NCAA tournament games on their home field to get back to the Final Four for a 10th consecutive time.
After defeating Wake Forest, 4-1, on Friday, the scene was set. UNC faced Maryland, the fourth time the programs have battled in the National Championship since 2009. Hoping to become the third team in program history to finish undefeated, the Tar Heels finished their 10th shutout of the season with members of the 1995 and 2007 undefeated squads in attendance.
Two first-half goals from junior forward Megan DuVernois and first-year forward Erin Matson all but ended any thought of a Terrapin victory, as the Tar Heels held a two-goal advantage heading into halftime.
So as the final seconds ticked off the clock in the second half, Hoffman had many thoughts — she wanted her team to get possession and run out the rest of the game, but once she knew her team was going to achieve perfection, she thought something else.
“Hug someone, honestly,” said Hoffman, who was named the NCAA Championship MVP. “That was my first thought is, ‘Where’s Coach? Where are my friends?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
The final whistle sounded. The bench converged onto the field. Hoffman found her teammates. She doesn’t remember who she hugged first. But she certainly remembers the feeling of knowing she and her teammates achieved perfection.
A feeling that can never be erased for the rest of their lives.
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