CHAPEL HILL, N.C.-The Virginia women's soccer team is a resilient bunch. The Cavaliers have dethroned champions and fallen to unranked cupcakes, but they have not been fazed by any of it. Last night, however, was just too much to take.
Losing in the first round of the ACC Tournament is one thing. Losing to the team that knocked you out of the tourney in each of the last two seasons is another. But the final straw for the No. 16 Cavs was losing 3-1 to Clemson when team members said they felt Virginia outplayed the No. 8 Tigers.
Virginia Coach April Heinrichs, like her players, was visibly distraught after the game.
"I don't think we deserved to lose," Heinrichs said. "Clemson's a good team, but I don't think our players deserved to lose."
Clemson senior forward Beth Keller put up a goal and an assist to lift the fourth-seeded Tigers (13-5-1) to a 2-0 lead with only 20 minutes left in the game. But then the No. 5 seed Cavaliers (12-8-0), who held even with the Tigers through the first half, began to tip the scales in their favor.
With just under 15 minutes to go, Virginia's persistence finally paid off when fifth-year forward Jill Maxwell, one of six Cavs playing in their final ACC Tournament, blooped a header into the back of the net to cut the Clemson lead to one.
The Cavaliers kept immense heat on Tiger goalkeeper Katie Carson, but with five minutes left, Clemson forward Deliah Arrington broke out on an odd-man rush. Her shot hit the post, but caromed directly to Alison Burpee, who crushed Virginia's comeback hopes with the third Tiger goal.
Heinrichs couldn't quite articulate how the Cavs' furious charge fell short.
"I could give you the clichéd response, but that probably wouldn't do it justice," she said. "We had about three chances where they were literally clearing it off their [goal] line. They get a breakaway goal when the ball hits the post and bounces back to two of their players. It's just unlucky in that regard."
Clemson Coach Tracey Leone said the Cavs certainly made her Tigers earn the victory.
"They were putting us under a tremendous amount of pressure," said Leone, whose team advances to play top-seeded North Carolina in today's semifinals. "The last 20 minutes was heart-wrenching. Virginia played an incredible game, they really did."
Yet it was because they played so well that even the most boisterous Cavaliers were shaken by the loss.
"It's just so disappointing," unusually subdued Cav midfielder Katie Tracy said. "It hurts so bad to feel like you're that close and you can't do it."