UNC women fall to UCLA in NCAA soccer quarterfinals

kcoons@newsobserver.comNovember 30, 2013 

— The numbers finally caught up to North Carolina.

The Tar Heels had never lost to UCLA in women’s soccer and had never lost an NCAA tournament quarterfinal. But missing two injured starters and with another hobbled by a bad ankle, UNC saw its reign end as NCAA champions.

Taylor Smith scored on her own rebound 1:31 into the second overtime, sending UCLA past North Carolina 1-0 on Saturday night at chilly Fetzer Field.

The No. 2 seeded Bruins (21-1-2) denied the ACC a sweep of the quarterfinals and will join three ACC teams in the College Cup next weekend at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. UCLA will play Virginia (23-1) on Friday, and Florida State (19-1-3) and Virginia Tech (17-3-3) will meet in the other semifinal.

It was the first time in 28 NCAA quarterfinals that the Tar Heels, who own 21 NCAA titles, had lost. The only previous blemish was a tie with Florida State in 2005, when the Seminoles advanced on penalty kicks 5-4. UNC also had owned a 9-0 record against UCLA, including 4-0 in NCAA tournament play.

But UCLA will make its ninth trip to the College Cup and deny No. 1 seed UNC its 28th.

The end came swiftly. UNC’s Kealia Ohai had opened the second overtime with a shot at the left post, but UCLA goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland held on for her fourth save.

The Bruins quickly counterattacked, and midfielder Sarah Killion slotted a through ball to Smith in the UNC half. Smith drove into the penalty area and let fly from about 8 yards. Anna Sieloff, who registered a career-high seven saves for UNC, made the initial stop, but Smith beat two defenders and Sieloff to the rebound and put it in from 3 yards, her eighth goal of the year. It was the first goal UNC had allowed in the tournament.

“We had been working on that the entire game,” said Smith. “I thought Sarah looked up, made eye contact and played me a through ball. I followed up my shot and finished it.”

This was the second meeting between the two teams this season. UNC had handed UCLA its only loss, 1-0, in a tournament at Duke on Sept. 6. Despite the score, the Tar Heels dominated that match with their pressing style, outshooting the Bruins 23-6. This time the shots were even at 11, fitting for a match that was contested evenly throughout.

“It was a good thing that we played them early in the season,” UCLA defender Caprice Dydasco said. “Their high pressure is effective, but we were ready for it.”

“UCLA has improved a lot,” UNC coach Anson Dorrance said. “They’re a lot harder now. The lesson we have may have taught them in our first game was the advantage of pressing, because they didn’t press us in the first game.

“Now they are starting to press a bit. ... That made us play faster and not as well.”

“We definitely did look to pressure them more,” UCLA coach Amanda Cromwell said. “We couldn’t do it the whole time. But we tried to put their forwards under pressure.”

The other difference from the first meeting was injuries.

The Tar Heels were without two regulars from that match, center defender Caitlin Ball (concussion) and forward Alexa Newfield (torn ACL). And in the final minute of the first overtime, UNC lost midfielder Katie Bowen, who suffered an apparent head injury in a collision at midfield and was taken from the field by ambulance for what was later reported as a precautionary measure.

But certainly the key injury was to UNC center midfielder Crystal Dunn, the ACC’s offensive player of the year. She was hampered by a high ankle sprain and saw only 27 minutes off the bench in four short stints. She had scored the goal to beat UCLA in their regular-season meeting, and she had one of UNC’s best chances Saturday. But her shot from 10 yards in the 43rd minute was blocked by a defender as UCLA, the nation’s top defensive team, remained unscored upon in the tournament.

“If I start to address (the injuries), it would seem like I’m stacking excuses,” Dorrance said. “But when you lose quality players, it makes it harder to compete, and those are some quality players.

“We certainly missed those quality players, as any team would.”

For Dunn and six other seniors, it was a sudden end to their college careers.

“When the final whistle blew, I hadn’t thought about the whole journey until right now,” she said. “To think that this is the last game I will play with these girls, that was the last thing that went through my mind.”

Coons: 919-829-4635

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