Sixteen seconds. That’s all that stood between the UNC women’s soccer team and a 23rd national championship just over a year ago against UCLA. With a 2-0 lead in the 75th minute, the Tar Heels essentially had one hand on the trophy. Then, they saw it ripped away.
“Just to be able to taste that national championship with 16 seconds left — it’s going to be something that is hard to come back from,” now senior forward Avery Patterson said after the 3-2 extra-time loss to UCLA.
Sixteen seconds to glory. So close, yet so far. Looking to turn the page, the team instituted the mantra 23 in ‘23 for this year’s campaign.
“Obviously, a national championship is the goal,” redshirt senior defender Maycee Bell said prior to the season.
But yet again, the Tar Heels’ hearts were shattered.
North Carolina’s 2023 season was ended just short of a 32nd College Cup appearance by No. 1 seed BYU in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. The Tar Heels finished with a 13-2-8 record and were fourth best in the ACC at 5-0-5. A periodic inability to convert chances and see out games accounted for a program-record eight draws. Head coach Anson Dorrance has 22 national titles to his name in 45 seasons, but has now gone 11 years without one.
The Tar Heels started the season strong, enduring a non-conference gauntlet with a 3-0-2 record against ranked teams and winning their first two ACC matches.
The biggest match of the regular season came on Sept. 24 when No. 3 Florida State came to Dorrance Field. In an eerily similar fashion to the 2022 national championship game, UNC couldn’t hold on to a late lead, as the Seminoles scored a 90th-minute equalizer.
The team bounced back with two consecutive wins including a 4-0 drubbing of N.C. State, but Oct. 8 was Groundhog Day. The Tar Heels led 1-0 at Duke in the 88th minute. They did not win.