Nov. 22, 2009

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Notebook: Shelton Not Ready To Leave Yet

By Roger van der Horst
Special to NCAA.com

WINSTON-SALEM — The University of North Carolina field hockey team got just what longtime coach Karen Shelton wanted Sunday against unbeaten Maryland in the Division I championship game: a tight, defensive struggle and a chance to win it at the end.

Third-seeded UNC forced a penalty corner late in the second half, let the clock wind down and won the national championship, 3-2, when senior Danielle Forword of South Africa whacked a low, hard ball past goalkeeper Alicia Grater with only 11 seconds left.

All of the goals were scored in a wild second period.

A desperate, second-half gamble by Shelton and stifling defense on Maryland star Katie O'Donnell enabled the Tar Heels (20-2) to leave Wake Forest's Kentner Stadium with their sixth NCAA title. The Terrapins, who dominated play for much of the day, finished 23-1.

That left Shelton feeling a tad guilty.

"It may have been a bit of an injustice that we were able to steal the game," said Shelton, who completed her 29th season at UNC. "... What a great year for Maryland, and I'm sorry."

Before the final, Shelton had said her defense and all-tournament goalie Jackie Kintzer would have to keep UNC in the game against a team that outscored three opponents by a combined 18-6 on the way to the final. Kintzer and UNC's back line did just that, keeping the game scoreless in the first half despite being outshot 8-1.

Maryland coach Missy Meharg described Kintzer's first-half play as "phenomenal." UNC sophomore Meghan Dawson drew the assignment of covering O'Donnell, the three-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, who set a final four record with nine points (three goals and three assists) in the Terps' 7-5 victory over Princeton on Friday.

With help from teammate Melanie Brill, Dawson "stuck to me like glue," O'Donnell said after being held without a shot on goal Sunday.

"My game plan was to just hang around the cover, try and take out two different people and see if we could get the ball to Nicole (Muracco) and Megan (Frazer) up front," O'Donnell added.

Actually, the plan worked — to a point.

Frazer, a freshman from Derry, Northern Ireland, took advantage of a rare defensive breakdown by the Heels, finding Muracco alone with a long upfield pass in the second half. Muracco, who led Maryland in goals, broke free on the right side, saw the left side of the net open and beat Kintzer with a low, hard shot to make it 1-0 with 28 minutes left.

So infrequent were Carolina's scoring chances that it looked as if the one goal might even hold up. But Alexis Pappas was sent off with a yellow card for an illegal tackle, giving UNC a one-player advantage. The Heels made the most of it, tying the score 1-1 on the first of Forword's two goals.

"It was a huge impact. It really shifted the energy," Meharg said of the yellow card. "Even subsequent to (Pappas') return, we lacked some structure and discipline and sort of ran around a bit. I think the foul was just a tangle. I think she and the same player had tangled before, and she was warned. ...

"I'm not so sure it was a wrong call. The officials do what they can to keep the game safe."

The tie lasted about a minute and a half. The Terrapins quickly moved the ball to the other end and forced a penalty corner. Off O'Donnell's pass, Emma Thomas didn't get full wood on her shot. The ball rolled to Frazer, who put it away for a 2-1 Maryland lead.

Deciding it was time to gamble, Shelton called timeout and pulled her goalkeeper to give UNC a two-player advantage.  "I'd rather go out in a blaze than just not do anything," Shelton said.

The Terps weathered the disadvantage long enough — 1:49 — for Pappas to return. Kintzer, however, was kept on the sideline for 3:08 — just long enough for Illse Davids, also from South Africa, to get open on the left side and get off a high backhander that made it 2-2 with 4:45 left.

That set the stage for the penalty corner with less than a minute left. The Tar Heels let the clock run down more than 30 seconds before Caitlin Van Sickle put the ball in play to Katelyn Falgowski, who moved it to Forword.

"Mel Brill on my left just kept repeating, 'I believe in you, I believe in you, I believe in you,' even when (the Maryland defenders) were rushing out and just before I took that shot," Forword said. "There's nothing like knowing your teammates really need this and they do believe in you. I don't know what it was that came over me, but it went in."