The North Carolina women's soccer team could not complete its season long redemption tour, falling in the national championship to Stanford in penalty kicks, 5-4, after making it to the final in back-to-back years. Last year, the Tar Heels feel in the national championship game to Florida State, 1-0, after a goal by Dallas Dorosy.
The match in San Jose, was tied at 0-0 at the end of 90 minutes and two overtimes, and was just the second time the national champion has been decided by PKs.
UNC started the match incredibly lucky, when goalie Claudia Dickey caught a shot from Stanford that was going wide, and inexplicably walked out of bounds while holding the ball, giving the Cardinals a corner kick less than a minute into the game. The kick was sent directly across UNC's box, but somehow sailed through untouched.
Stanford stayed on the offensive during the early part of the first half, controlling possession and not allowing North Carolina to register its first shot until the 24th minute of the game.
Despite being outshot 6-1 at halftime, the Tar Heels clearly gained confidence in the latter end of the first half, doing a much better job of controlling the ball and junking up any attempt to get in a rhythm by Stanford.
The chippy style of play meant Stanford, the leading offense in the country, only attempted two shots in the last 20 minutes. UNC picked up four fouls in an effort to be physical with the No. 1 team, keeping them physically uncomfortable.
The rough, physical play continued throughout the entire second half, with the refs swallowing their whistles as UNC made their presence felt on every inch of the field. The closest chance of the game for North Carolina came in the 54th minute, when Isabel Cox made a play up the right side of the field, speeding past several defenders to send a cross through the box to a wide open Alessia Russo. The junior forward made a diving kick, but couldn't connect firmly, and the ball sailed wide.
With the game scoreless after 90 minutes, the teams entered the first sudden death overtime. Seven minutes in, Russo beat two defenders to get into Stanford's box, sending a cross shot just wide of the goal.
Sophomore midfielder Brianna Pinto had a close chance in the second overtime with a shot that was maybe going wide, but was saved by Stanford's Katie Meyer.
Going to penalty kicks, the Tar Heels dropped after six rounds, having two shots blocked while Stanford converted five kicks.
Who stood out?
Against the best offense in the country, and Catarina Macario, the best goal-scorer and reining MAC Hermann Trophy winner, every player on the defense stepped up to keep a blank slate for 110 minutes.
Junior Lotte Wubben-Moy and first-year Maycee Bell played what might have been the best game of their lives, constantly negating opportunities for Stanford's goal scorers and defending an onslaught of corner kicks.
When was it decided?
For just the second time in history, the NCAA women's soccer championship was decided by penalty kicks. With UNC's first shot taken by Taylor Otto getting blocked, the Tar Heels started the count down one as Stanford made each of its shots.
Claudia Dickey came up big, making a save of her own, but Tori Hansen's shot was also blocked. When Kiara Pickett made the fifth shot for Stanford, the game was over.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels failed to take home their 23rd national championship in program history. The redemption tour, which started on August 22nd and made it all the way back to the national championship game.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels won't play again until 2020.
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