Persistence keeps UNC alive
Kolojejchick’s second goal of game served as game-winner
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- No. 1 North Carolina found itself in uncharted territory in Friday’s Division I field hockey semifinal game against No. 4 Connecticut at Trager Field in Louisville.
Boasting a 3-0 lead midway through the second half, it appeared the Huskies were on their way to a historic upset victory against the 2010 runner-up, the nation’s top team and the field hockey dynasty.
The Huskies (19-3) have never toppled the Tar Heels (23-1) in a tournament game, and their last win against UNC was 30 years ago on Sept. 12, 1982.
But the veteran Tar Heel squad, with four fifth-year seniors, made sure history went their way with a monumental comeback 4-3 victory in two overtimes. The Tar Heels scored two goals in the final minute of regulation to tie it at 3.
Junior Kelsey Kolojejchick, who had two goals, scored the game-winner in the second overtime to send the Tar Heels to the national championship game Sunday at noon ET.
It was a devastating loss for the Huskies, who last collected a championship trophy in 1985.
“We left everything on the field," said Huskies sophomore Marie Elena Bolles, who notched two goals in the first half. “It’s not every game you can say that. I know we did everything we could."
North Carolina has shown it can handle the pressure, as it is now 5-0 in overtime games. The comeback tied a record for largest deficit overcome in an NCAA tournament game.
“We’ve come back from two goals down many times, but I don’t know that we’ve ever come back from three goals down,” said North Carolina head coach Karen Shelton, who is coaching in her 28th NCAA tournament. “The girls know I love these kinds of games. It certainly was more adversity than what we had expected, but that was one of our goals as we went over the game plan. The bottom line is find a way to win, survive and advance.”
Connecticut goalkeeper Sarah Mansfield, a sophomore from Cornwall, England, stymied the Tar Heels the entire first half. Mansfield tallied a total of 19 saves.
“She was the reason we thought we could win,” Connecticut coach Nancy Stevens said. “In tournament play, goalkeeping is paramount. She has every quality - strength, size, quickness, velocity.”
The Huskies built a seemingly insurmountable 3-0 lead at halftime thanks to Bolles’ two goals and a goal from Anne Jeute.
But the Tar Heels started playing forward and found an answer to Mansfield while shoring up its defense in the second half. North Carolina took 14 shots on goal in the second half compared to eight in the first.
“I knew the way we played in the first half wasn’t good enough," said Tar Heel senior Meghan Dawson. “In order for us to win we had to play great defense and not let another goal in."
Kolojejchick said Dawson played a key role in keeping her head in the game after a shot she took with less than five minutes left in regulation appeared to be a goal, but was disallowed by the officials.
“The best way to overcome adversity is to score another goal, and if it’s a clean one the referee can’t take it away," Kolojejchick said. “I think it was something that our entire team was so motivated and determined, that I wasn’t going to let anything bother me."
North Carolina has won 18 in a row and is now 47-21 all-time in tournament play.