CARY, N.C. —
There’s pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and then there’s what UCLA did.
Maricarmen Reyes scored a go-ahead goal off a rebound in the 107th minute and top-seeded UCLA rallied past North Carolina 3-2 on Monday night to win its second women’s soccer championship in program history.
UCLA (22-2-1) trailed 2-0 late in the second half before scoring two goals in the final 10 minutes to force overtime. In the second 10-minute overtime, Ally Cook had a close-range shot knocked wide by North Carolina goalkeeper Emmie Allen, but Reyes raced to the ball for a sliding finish from a difficult angle.
The Bruins became the first women’s soccer program in NCAA history to win the title with a first-year head coach. And coach Margueritte Aozasa’s squad was also the first to come back from two-goals down to win the national title.
UCLA blitzed the Tar Heels throughout the second half, and scored off a corner kick with just 17 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.
“I told the team at halftime: ‘We’re going to get our chances and we’re going to score a set piece tonight.’ I didn’t know it would be such a monumental set piece,” Aozasa said. “And I do believe, too, that good things happen to good people. And this group especially is just full of special, special people.”
UCLA made necessary adjustments at halftime. The Bruins took only minutes to reel off a pair of quality transition shots from Sunshine Fontes. And they were able to get back into attacking form after Avery Patterson’s first goal, outshooting North Carolina 11-4 through the end of regulation. Winger Lexi Wright found the back of the net in the 79th minute. With the Heels up 2-1, it seemed that was only enough to make the final minutes a bit more suspenseful.
But UCLA never let up. And with just 30 seconds left, Ally Lemos served a perfect corner and Reilyn Turner headed it in from the far post.
“It’s just that heart and that grit just to work for every single second of the game until that whistle is blown,” Turner said. “With this team, you can never, ever, ever give up, because we will always come back. And we will have each other’s back and work to the last second of the game.”
UCLA’s second-half offensive barrage only allowed a few breaks for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels made the most of them. In the 58th minute, they pushed an interception into a counter, got a crosser from Emily Moxley down the right wing, and the Bruins couldn’t keep everyone marked. Patterson got inside her defender for a free header to open the scoring.
The Tar Heels repeated the process in the 74th minute, but with Libby Moore serving the crosser. UCLA was down 2-0 despite having controlled most of the second half.
“What was great is without any tactical adjustments, the team’s mentality shifted. So you could see, as soon as that second goal happened, we were on the front foot,” Aozasa said. “And we were actually going to change systems earlier, but there was like a solid five minutes after the second goal where we actually had a ton of momentum, and we were like, ‘OK, let’s ride this out a little bit.’”
In stark contrast to their semifinals win over Alabama, the Bruins were pushed onto their heels to start. North Carolina dominated possession over the first 35 minutes through tackling and intercepting in the midfield. The Tar Heels’ midfielders pressed better than the Bruins’, and the North Carolina back line consistently cut off UCLA’s passing angles in transition. The Tar Heels, however, never got too close to scoring: North Carolina was held to just three shots on goal, all low-percentage shots right at goalie Lauren Brzykcy.
“This is one of the greatest finals I’ve personally ever been involved in,” Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance said. “Up and back, lots of goals, overtime, TThe drama of sport — one team goes up, the other one claws their way back. … I think everyone that participated in it, from the players on both rosters ought to be credited, because this was a wonderful sales piece for the women’s collegiate soccer game.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.