Playing for national championships is nothing new for the North Carolina women’s soccer team. The Tar Heels, though, have perhaps never embarked on a more dramatic journey to the championship game.
UNC on Sunday at 4 p.m. in San Diego will make its 24th appearance in the championship game of the NCAA women’s soccer tournament, which is in its 31st year of existence. The Heels will play against Penn State.
To reach the championship game, the Heels have needed overtime victories in their past three games. The latest triumph came on Friday, when Kealia Ohai, a junior forward, scored a goal in the 105th minute to break a scoreless tie against Stanford, the top seed in the tournament.
Before this season, UNC had never played in more than one overtime game in any NCAA tournament. In addition to the overtime victory against Stanford, the Heels also defeated Baylor on penalty kicks after a two-overtime game resulted in a 1-1 tie. Then, in the tournament quarterfinals, Crystal Dunn gave UNC a 2-1 victory against BYU with a goal in the 107th minute.
Dunn also helped set up Ohai’s goal on Friday. Dunn received a pass from Katie Bowen, a UNC freshman who is also a member of the New Zealand national team. Amid defensive pressure, Dunn then passed to Ohai on the right side of the penalty area. Ohai released a shot from about 12 yards out, and it ricocheted off the left post and into the right side of the net.
The Heels dominated both overtime periods, when they outshot Stanford 6-0.
“Great final pass, great strike, and a great goal to end the game on,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said, speaking to reporters in San Diego.
Dorrance also praised Adelaide Gay, the UNC goalkeeper who made four saves during regulation.
“I think what you saw today is why we're playing her – great decision-making, and really good feet in terms of moving around the box, really good agility and just an outstanding goal keeper,” Dorrance said.
The Tar Heels have won 20 NCAA championships, but they are seeking their first national title since 2009. The Heels entered the tournament as a No. 2 seed, which came as somewhat of a surprise after they entered the tournament with a 9-5-3 record.
Penn State, meanwhile, defeated No. 1 seed Florida State on Friday to advance to the championship game for the first time in school history.