SAN DIEGO – North Carolina used quick goals in both the first and second half to claim its 21st women’s soccer championship, defeating Penn State 4-1 Sunday at San Diego’s Torero Stadium.
The Tar Heels (15-5-3) were the only No. 2 seed in the College Cup but defeated two No. 1 seeds (Stanford and Penn State) to win the national championship. They also defeated No. 1 seed BYU to reach the College Cup.
The loss ruined Penn State Coach’s Erica Walsh quest to become the second female coach to win a women’s soccer championship. The Nittany Lions (21-5-2) did however become the first team from the Big Ten to reach the finals.
Penn State had more offensive weapons going into the final game, but UNC controlled the offense, especially in the second half.
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Hanna Gardner scored only her second goal of the season 48 seconds into the second half to break a 1-1 tie. Gardner got a corner kick from Katie Bowen in the box and headed it past goalie, Erin McNulty. UNC had eight corner kicks to four for Penn State.
No team in the history of the finals has ever scored two goals and lost, but UNC wasn’t taking any chances. UNC head coach Anson Dorrance made several substitutions, which allowed his team to keep pressuring offensively.
“We put the reserves in because the starters were absolutely exhausted,” Dorrance said. “When we put the reserves in we still had a pretty high level of play. Those were my starters when a lot of players were gone representing their countries early in the season.”
Penn State was never able to get its offense on track. The Nittany Lions had three players, Christine Nairn, Maya Hayes and Mallory Weber, who had scored more than 10 goals this season, but none of them had a shot on goal in the first half and only Nairn had one in the second half.
“The credit absolutely goes to their backline,” Nairn said. “We threw everything at them including the kitchen sink. Credit to their backline and goalkeeping. It worked for them.”
The Nittany Lions spent most of the second half playing defense, holding off a barrage of offense from the Tar Heels.
Santara Murray scored her first goal of the season at 63:20 mark to make the score 3-1 and all but guarantee the victory. The goal was scored when McNulty got a hand on two shots, but could not control the ball, eventually landing on Murray’s right foot which she controlled and put just under the crossbar.
Ranee Premji scored the team’s fourth goal when Crystal Dunn fed her a touch pass and Premji tapped it into the right side of the net. It was Premji’s fourth goal of the season.
“It was definitely challenging,” Taylor Schram said. “Every 15 minutes they would sub a new line. We had a couple of injuries earlier in the year, so it took away from our depth, so it was tough when you’re playing against fresh legs second game of the weekend. We tried to hang in there.”
UNC scored the game’s first goal when Kealia Ohai got free from two defenders and fired a shot from just inside the box into the upper right corner of the net.
Penn State scored the equalizer when Taylor Schram got past a defender on a pass from Nairn and kicked it into the right side of the goal, but it was as close as they would get.