SAN DIEGO – Both North Carolina and Penn State experienced an emotional semifinal victory to reach the championship game of the College Cup, but believe they still have enough mental and physical stamina to win the national championship.
Both teams were underdogs in the semifinal game and both needed overtime to dispatch its opponent.
Penn State thought they had the game won in regulation. Maya Hayes scored early in the second half but Florida State tied the game with 41 seconds remaining. Penn State then scored the game winner when Christine Nairn tapped in the ball from 6 yards out.
The victory made Penn State the first team in the Big Ten Conference to reach the championship game and gives Coach Erica Walsh the chance to become only the second female Division I soccer coach to win a national championship.
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Semis: Penn State 2, Florida State 1
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With all the intensity of the semifinal game and the pressure of the championship game, a let down would be understandable, but Walsh scoffed at the possibility.
“I smile because I don’t think they’re capable of it, in fact I know they’re not capable of it,” Walsh said. “There were moments in this season when I had that question in my mind, but that question has been answered time and time again- whether it’s a Friday-Saturday schedule or whether it’s an overtime win, whether it’s just the moment in the game where they had the ability to crack and they didn’t so maybe that question was asked in September or early October, but now in December I can tell you with great certainty that these guys can handle anything you throw at them.”
Nairn, who gave an impassioned speech to her team before the start of overtime, doesn’t think she or her teammates will be fatigued.
“Business as usual,” Nairn said. “We’ve been doing it all season long. We just got back from the beach from stretching our legs and working out. We’re doing everything that we can to be ready on Sunday.”
North Carolina has to worry more about possible fatigue. They played in the second semifinal game, against No. 1 Stanford, winning in double overtime when Kealia Ohai’s shot from 15 yards bounced off the post and in the net.
“It was unbelievable,” goalkeeper Adelaide Gay said. “I told Kealia before the game that I thought she was going to score in this game because she had a little of a dry spell. She came in and scored. And I get chills all over my body just thinking about it. It’s just a great feeling.”
Tar Heel coach Anson Dorrance said emotionally the team should be fine, he is more concerned with tired players.
“It’s not so much a letdown. What it is, is exhaustion,” Dorrance said. “We play a high-pressure system. This game wasn’t designed to play two games in three days. My theory is that we’re going to be leg weary. The theory I have is playing against an elite team like Stanford, they took basically every calorie we had to burn to win that game. To come back and play two days later and play another exceptional team and try to play our system is going to be a huge challenge physically and psychologically.”
Gay isn’t worried, though.
“Just getting refocused, not dwelling on last night’s game because it was just an emotional game and a big game,” Gay said. “And really respecting Penn State because they’re a fantastic team. It’s going to take a tremendous effort on our part to beat them. So for me, it’s to try to get everyone refocused. I don’t think we’ll overlook them. I think our team has grown over the season. In some of the earlier games, we have overlooked opponents and its cost us, so I think we’ll come out ready to play.”