The maddening thing about soccer is that a game - or a season - can be lost with one slip-up. The Virginia women had that axiom driven home painfully Saturday, as they scratched and clawed with Hartford into a third overtime period before bowing out of the NCAA Tournament in the third round with a 3-2 loss at Klöckner Stadium.
With both teams feeling the effects of more than two hours of soccer, Hawk freshman Katharina Lindner bounced the No. 16 Cavaliers (13-9-0) from the tournament with a goal in the 133rd minute.
Lindner converted on an open shot at Virginia goalkeeper Julie Harris after second-year Ashley Meeker, the final line of the Cavalier defense, stumbled as she tried to pivot toward the oncoming attacker.
The Cavs could have staved off the end of their season by coming through in any number of little moments, but the unranked Hawks (18-4-2) left Charlottesville with a win because of Meeker's miscue.
"When you've been around soccer long enough, particularly soccer because it is so difficult to score, you know that in the third or fourth overtime, it's more than likely going to be a mistake that's going to create a chance," Virginia Coach April Heinrichs said. "You can't spend too much time reflecting on a mistake like that."
The Cavs maintained that Meeker shouldered no more blame for the loss than anyone else.
Heinrichs second-guessed her substitution strategy, and fourth-year forward Angela Hucles, who scored the first Cavalier goal in the final game of her illustrious collegiate career, pointed to an easy scoring chance she missed earlier in the third overtime.
"When I saw [the game-winning goal] happening, I was just thinking, 'If they're going to score, let's not have them score on that,'" Hucles said. "I know Meeker's taking it really hard, but it's not decided all on one play; I could've won the game 10 minutes earlier."
Hartford star Danielle Korbmacher, who assisted on Lindner's game-winner, opened the scoring with a goal in the 17th minute. Hucles responded, ricocheting a booming shot off the crossbar and the back of goalkeeper Ingrid Sternhoff from 40 yards out to tie the game at one in the closing minutes of the first half.
The pace of the game grew increasingly frenetic as the second half progressed, with each team fighting desperately to keep its season alive.
Cavalier second-year Darci Borski took advantage of up-and-down play in the 71st minute, breaking away for an exhilarating scoring run from midfield that pushed the Cavaliers in front by a goal.
But two minutes later, Hartford senior Victoria Munro turned a scrum in front of the Virginia goal into the game-tying score, as the Cavs could not clear the ball out of their defensive third.
An hour later, Lindner crushed the Cavaliers with her game-winning goal. Meeker and many of her teammates crumpled to the ground in shock as the Hawks mobbed their newfound heroine following the close of the match. Yet Heinrichs could see a silver lining in the fact that her players were so devastated by the loss.
"I think last year when the season ended, I might have been the most disappointed person on the field," Heinrichs said. "Today, I think there were quite a few people that were pretty bummed, so to speak. To me, that means it really matters to them."
That level of commitment produced a season the Cavaliers can hold up as a success, even if they finished four wins shy of their ultimate national title goal.
"I'm proud of how our team got better even in the last week of the year," Heinrichs said. "I'm pleased with the brand of soccer we play. I can hold my chin up high as a coach and be proud to coach these young ladies."