An unlikely hero leads UNC to another crown

An unlikely hero leads UNC to another crown
by J.R. Eskilson
December 2, 2012

SAN DIEGO – North Carolina raced away from Penn State 4-1 on Sunday in the 2012 NCAA Championship. The Tar Heels used a three-goal outburst in the second half to capture the 21st NCAA Championship in program history.

The game got off to a cracking start in the opening 70 seconds when Kealia Ohai found the back of the net with a thunderous strike from 17 yards out.  

The first tally was set up by Satara Murray’s long pass to the Tar Heel’s target forward that put the flat backline of the Nittany Lions on their heels. Ohai’s delicate first touch allowed her to turn and cut past two defenders. The sliver of space was enough for the U.S. U20 Women’s National Team star to bury the ball off the crossbar and into the net.

The Nittany Lions woke up after the early goal and had a couple of chances to get back on level terms in the opening ten minutes. Christine Nairn had a good look in the fifth minute when Maya Hayes laid off a backpass for her about 20 yards from goal. Nairn’s strike drifted over the net though.

Four minutes later, Emily Hurd got to the touchline and whipped in a cross for Hayes, who was inexplicably left open at the far post, but the Lions main threat could not put the shot on frame.

The Big Ten Champions found their only goal of the game in the 20th minute when midfield ace Christine Nairn eluded two defenders and played an exquisite pass behind the Tar Heels defense for Taylor Schram. The junior forward caught North Carolina keeper in no-man’s land and chipped her from 20 yards out. The shot bounced into the lower corner of the net for the tying strike.

"We were talking about switching [formations] when they were scoring," Anson Dorrance said about moving from the 3-4-3 to the 4-5-1 during the game. "Penn State was making our defense look like Swiss cheese."

With the change in formation, North Carolina returned to peppering Erin McNulty and the Penn State goal with the teams back on level terms. The experienced netminder was up for the challenge and came through with a highlight-reel worthy diving save late in the half to keep the teams on level terms at the break. 

In the second half, the Heels moved striker Ohai to the winger position. The move was quickly rewarded when Ohai charged down the right sideline in the opening 30 seconds of the second stanza. The junior won a corner kick, which set up the go-head goal for the Heels.

Defender Hanna Gardner beat the Penn State goalkeeper and a couple of defenders to the corner kick by Katie Bowen to head home the game-winning goal with authority.

"The story of this game could be told in the timing of the goals," Penn State head coach Erica Walsh said."I thought the second goal was the game changing moment."

Defending on corner kicks did not get any easier for the Nittany Lions as the half went on, and the Heels punished them once again in the 64th minute. The Tar Heels had two clean shots on goal that were both blocked before Murray hammered home her first career goal. Murray captured the 2012 College Cup Most Outstanding Player on Defense honor after her goal and an assist performance, which were the first points of her collegiate career. 

The Heels took all life out of a comeback effort ten minutes later when Summer Green flicked a pass over her shoulder to Crystal Dunn. The speedy attacking midfielder headed to the touchline and hit a cross into the center of the box. Substitute Ranee Premji was happily standing in the right spot to direct the pass into the net for the fifth goal of the contest.

The giants of women’s college soccer continued to attack even with the three-goal advantage. Alyssa Rich nearly had her first goal of College Cup with four minutes left in the game when she pounced on a rebound in the box. Penn State defender Whitney Church’s last second sliding challenge managed to keep the ball out of the net.

Despite giving up four goals, McNulty was hardly at fault for the lopsided score. The Nittany Lions goalkeeper finished the day with seven saves. North Carolina goalies Gay and Hannah Daly, who made a late appearance, combined for three saves.

Penn State ended the season with a 21-4-2 record after advancing to the program’s first ever NCAA Championship match. North Carolina concluded the season with a 15-5-3 record.  

2012 College Cup All-Tournament Team: Emily Oliver (Stanford), Tiffany McCarty (Florida State), Maddy Evans (Penn State), Maya Hayes (Penn State), Christine Nairn (Penn State), Taylor Schram (Penn State), Amber Brooks (North Carolina), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina), Adelaide Gay (North Carolina)

Most Outstanding Player (Defense): Satara Murray (North Carolina)

Most Outstanding Player (Offense): Kealia Ohai (North Carolina)

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