COLLEGE PARK, MD. - The third-ranked Virginia field hockey team's season ended Friday with a 4-3 overtime loss to defending national champion North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
The game started promisingly for Virginia as junior midfielder Paige Selenski scored two early goals. She blasted one shot assisted by senior midfielder Taylor Swezey off a penalty corner in the 19th minute and contributed another after an assist from freshman forward Elly Buckley in the 27th minute. After the Tar Heels drew a penalty corner in the 34th minute, senior midfielder Elizabeth Drazdowski scored off a deflected shot to cut North Carolina's deficit to just one.
North Carolina coach Karen Shelton said her team's first goal allowed it to stick to its game plan after halftime.
"There's no doubt that was a critical goal," she said. "A one-goal game is a lot different than a two-goal game, even though I still feel you can still overcome a two-goal game in 35 minutes. We didn't really change anything at halftime because we thought we were still in the game."
North Carolina tied the game at two apiece in the 43rd minute. After bringing more attacking pressure inside the Cavaliers' 25-yard line, the Tar Heels managed to draw a penalty stroke. Freshman midfielder Marta Malmberg scored the penalty stroke with a high flick that went past Virginia senior goalkeeper Kim Kastuk's right side.
"They changed how they attacked," Virginia coach Michele Madison said. "It's a really easy game. You just slam the ball down there and hope someone gets it in. They are really dangerous inside the circle, and I think both teams are dangerous."
Nine minutes later, North Carolina took its first lead of the game off sophomore back Caitlin Van Sickle's blast following a penalty corner.
Virginia answered just 43 seconds later, however. Quickly pushing toward North Carolina's goal, senior midfielder Haley Carpenter passed the ball to Selenski, who smashed another into the back of the cage and tied the game at 3-3.
The remainder of the period went scoreless, bringing the game into overtime. Just four minutes in, North Carolina's junior back Meghan Dawson scored the game-winning goal off of a penalty corner.
Dawson noted after the game that she was not even supposed to take the game-winning shot.
"I was supposed to show to the right and then pass to the left to Caitlin Van Sickle," Dawson said. "I had an open lane and I knew I had to take the shot. I saw their flyer [junior midfielder] Michelle [Vittese] come out, and I knew I had to take the shot. To be honest, that wasn't supposed to happen."
Shelton, though, lauded Dawson for turning unforeseen circumstances into the goal which brought her team the win.
"We call that improvisation," Shelton said. "She did the right thing."
Such was the luck for the Cavaliers, who have now crashed out of the NCAA Tournament semifinals with a loss to North Carolina for two straight years. The game was the third-highest scoring contest in NCAA semifinals and finals history, and Madison and her players were noticeably crushed by having to give their team's valediction, so much so that Madison muttered "we lost" as her post-game opening statement.
Madison later expressed her pride in Virginia's accomplishments through the course of this season.
"I couldn't be more proud of the efforts of my entire team," Madison said. "Everyone is so disappointed because we give our heart and soul each and every day in practice. They believe in each other, and to lose like that causes a lot of pain. We always tell our players there is a lot more pain in losing than in working hard, and that's what we are feeling right now."
Selenski, who became the ninth player in history to earn a hat trick in the tournament semifinals or finals, added, "The only thing that matters to me is winning with my team. It's nice to score and step up. We played well but we weren't able to finish. [But] I feel like we are getting better and better. I feel like we have a great future ahead of us"