The wherewithal to win even when star left back Emily Fox missed four games to be with the U.S. national team helped the faith grow, too. Those nail-biting wins against UCLA and Georgetown to reach Sunday’s title game had UNC feeling that this was its year to be atop the women’s soccer world again.
“Going into today, I think we really thought it was our day,” said senior right back Julia Ashley, whose stellar NCAA Tournament form (three goals, five assists) helped carry the Tar Heels to this point. “We thought that throughout the entire game up until the last 10 seconds.”
Then reality set in. UNC, which believed it played an evenly matched game, was left to deal with the sudden anguish that comes with the end of a season. Meanwhile, FSU, the team that prevented the Tar Heels from lifting a trophy twice this season, celebrated its first national title since 2014.
In his postgame remarks, UNC head coach Anson Dorrance opined that soccer can be a “bizarre game,” one that can be “punishing.”
Unlike the Tar Heels’ 3-2 loss to FSU in the ACC Championship, Dorrance didn’t think his players were outplayed on Sunday.
“Those of you who watched the (ACC) final, it was a clear statement about Florida State being the superior team,” Dorrance said. “Today, if you clip out the goal that they scored, and you ask anyone that knows anything about the game – we’ve clipped out the one goal – which team won, guess what they would say. They would say North Carolina.”
From the get-go, it was clear that Sunday’s match would be a physical one, with nothing coming easy for either side because of the familiarity the teams had with one another. That being said, the Seminoles outshot UNC 6-2 during a scoreless opening half, with the best chance coming to Dorosy, who was just off-target in the 23rd minute with a powerful shot from the edge of the 18-yard box.
UNC did get a good look at goal in the 36th minute off a corner kick. Having tracked down Wubben-Moy’s service, first-year forward Rachael Dorwart’s header from close-range was flicked wide, just left of the goal.
After the halftime break, it was UNC that outshot the Seminoles 6-2 during the final 45 minutes, though FSU was able to convert one of the few second-chance opportunities it had because of a perfect service from forward Deyna Castellanos.
Positioned out on the right flank, Castellanos, despite having left back Emily Fox and center back Brooke Bingham directly in front of her, played in a perfect ball to Dorosy. The senior midfielder scored on a shot so close Dorrance believed the ball took a deflection off center back Wubben-Moy.
From that point on, UNC made a forceful final push, forcing the Seminoles to defend deep in their own end during the game’s latter stages. Yet, no clear-cut opportunities came about for the Tar Heels despite them creating numerous dangerous situations.
Instead, they were left to ruminate on the small margin between the two teams.
“Against a team like that, it’s just whoever can grind out a goal, whoever can get it done,” redshirt sophomore midfielder Taylor Otto said. “Unfortunately the last two times (against FSU) we couldn’t.”
Even in defeat, Dorrance commended this year’s Tar Heels for their leadership and ability to improve as the year progressed.
Ashley, whose late-season performance personified those sentiments, will cherish the process in reaching Sunday’s championship match.
“The postseason especially is what I’ll remember the most, and how we’ve really grown as a team,” she said. “Just everybody … we really are truly a family.”
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