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UNC women's soccer season ends after allowing three-goal comeback in NCAA tournament

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Members of the women’s soccer team after the game against Towson in the first-round NCAA Division I game on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, at Dorrance Field. UNC won 3-1.

Amidst hundreds of Brigham Young students who stormed the field, the North Carolina women’s soccer players were hidden in white — some standing, some sitting, but all crying and all in utter disbelief.

Leading BYU 3-0 with just 30 minutes left, it seemed almost impossible that North Carolina wouldn’t advance to the 2023 College Cup. But for the rest of the game, the Cougars pounced on every opportunity they were presented, slowly unraveling the UNC defense.

At the end of the NCAA tournament quarterfinals game in Provo, Utah, all that was remained for North Carolina was a feeling of disbelief as the scoreboard lit up the final score, 4-3 — a result that tied the biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history

But in reality, Friday ruminated a feeling of disbelief.

The theme for most of the latter half of the season was North Carolina's inability to score goals, only achieving a multi-goal game twice — once in October and once in November.But less than two minutes into the game against BYU, North Carolina had already found the back of the net.

Redshirt sophomore midfielder Ally Sentnor connected with redshirt senior defender Maycee Bell on a corner kick, who floated a header past the keeper to notch the fastest goal the Tar Heels had scored all season. Then, on top of this, Sentnor added two goals of her own over the next 18 minutes to give UNC a three-goal advantage just 20 minutes into the game.

This was almost unheard of from the Tar Heels this season.

Three goals in the first half?

The last time they did that was against Gardner-Webb in their fifth game of the season in August. For North Carolina to have scored three goals in a half, let alone before the midpoint of the period in an NCAA tournament game, was almost unbelievable.

And with North Carolina still holding onto a three-goal lead going into the second half, all they needed to do was rely on their steadfast defense, which had only allowed multiple goals twice this season.

It seemed like a simple task. 

Not so fast.

“This is a good team,” head coach Anson Dorrance told ESPN at halftime. “We’ve seen a lot of their games, they’re going to score goals and we have to figure out a way to limit them a bit because we know their personnel, they’re talented so we gotta figure out a way to ride out the margin that the first half gave us.”

After holding the BYU offense to just five shots in the first half, the Cougars ramped up the pressure while the Tar Heels took their foot off the gas. By the 80th minute, BYU had recorded 14 shots to North Carolina’s three. Still though, the Tar Heels had only given up one goal and the game was still very much in hand.

If they could just hang on for 10 more minutes, North Carolina would advance to its second-straight College Cup. 

But that never came. The 10 minutes that followed resulted in the state of disbelief that North Carolina found itself in after the final whistle.

The defense crumbled under a barrage of shots from BYU, and the Cougars scored three goals in nine minutes to complete a miracle comeback.

No national championship No. 23 in ’23.

No redemption story.

Just disbelief.

UNC Athletic Communications declined to make head coach Anson Dorrance available to The Daily Tar Heel for an interview following the loss.

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@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com