By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At the under-20 World Cup in Japan, when United States women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson looked at Kealia Ohai, Crystal Dunn and Bryane Heaberlin, he saw three of his players.
When Swanson looked at them Sunday afternoon, he did so as the University of Virginia’s coach, and he saw three Tar Heels.
“It’s funny, I was walking down the ramp here, and I ran into Crystal, and we just hugged, because it was just so weird,” Swanson said Sunday afternoon after fifth-ranked UVa and sixth-ranked North Carolina played to a 2-2 draw at Klöckner Stadium.
“We’ve been spending almost every waking minute [together] for 30 days. Probably more than that, because we were down in Florida [training] together. It’s different, but it’s always good to see them, all three of them.”
The under-20 World Cup ended Sept. 8 in Tokyo, where the United States edged Germany 1-0 on a goal by Ohai. Dunn, Heaberlin and Ohai then headed back to Chapel Hill, N.C., and Swanson and midfielder Morgan Brian returned to Charlottesville, where they rejoined a UVa team that was 7-1, with seven straight victories.
“It’s great having them back,” said sophomore defender Olivia Brannon, who rooms with Brian. “It’s definitely good that they brought back that experience and can help our team moving forward with international play and different kinds of ideas.”
Brian, still suffering from jet lag and trying to catch up on her schoolwork, sat out Virginia’s 4-0 rout of NC State on Thursday night. But the sophomore from St. Simons Island, Ga., was in the starting lineup Sunday, and Brian’s assist set up senior forward Caroline Miller’s second goal, which put UVa up 2-1 in the 55th minute.
“That’s just my first game with the team,” Brian said, “so it’s pretty much preseason for me. I hope I can get acclimated as quick as I can.”
Having Brian back “makes a great difference,” said Miller, who also scored two goals against NC State. “She’s great to have in the midfield. She’s a great attacking presence. She can shoot, she can pass, she’s really nice to have out there.”
Brian, an All-American in 2011, is “so good at helping us relieve pressure, and she’s so good at seeing the field,” Swanson said. “That was a great ball in behind that she sent to Caroline. But, you know, she hasn’t practiced in a week. She’s barely been out to the field. She’s been trying to catch up with all her studies and all that. I think to come out and play as hard as she did in double overtime after such a long journey for her with the World Cup team [was remarkable].”
A season ago in Chapel Hill, Brian’s pass in the 105th minute led to a Miller goal that gave the Wahoos a 1-0 victory in double overtime: their first win over the Tar Heels, who have won 21 NCAA championships in this sport.
On Sunday, before a season-high crowd of 1,603 at Klöckner, Virginia fell behind 1-0 on a goal by Ohai in the final minute of the first half. But the `Hoos pulled even early in the second half when senior Erica Hollenberg assisted Miller on a goal, and then a second straight victory over UNC seemed possible when Brian and Miller teamed up about six minutes later.
“We obviously were in a good position,” Swanson said. “We just didn’t handle their pressure very well. Give Carolina credit. That’s one of the things they do well. They pressure the ball extremely well, and we just turned it over too easily at times, and that led to their second goal.”
In the 73rd minute, a defensive breakdown led to a breakaway for Ohai, who beat UVa goalie Danielle DeLisle in a race to the ball and chipped it into the net to make it 2-2.
That Ohai, a junior from Draper, Utah, proved so difficult to defend was no surprise to Brian or Swanson.
“She’s probably the fastest person I’ve ever played against,” Brian said.
“No. 1, she’s dangerous,” Swanson said, “and No. 2, she’s such a workhorse. She’s got a big engine, and we knew that after working with her for a year [with the U.S. team].
“I didn’t like some of the positions we put ourselves in against her. We didn’t do as well as we could have, but she’s just a superb athlete and a great player. So credit her. I think we learned a lot from this game, especially our back line. I think there’s a lot we can take away from this result.”
For the fifth time in their past seven meetings, UVa and UNC went to overtime after 90 minutes of regulation. But the first 10-minute OT period ended without a goal, as did the second, and so UVa’s record moved to 8-1-1 overall and 1-0-1 in ACC play. The Heels (4-2-2, 0-1-1) are winless after two ACC games for the first time in their storied history.
To settle for a tie after leading 2-1, Brian said, was frustrating. “We can do better about giving up goals like that,” she said, “and we can do better if we’re ahead like that.”
Brannon agreed. “We’re definitely not satisfied. A little disappointed. We definitely had a good run there and could have put this one away for a `W.’ But a tie is not bad, especially in this conference against UNC. It’s a great team, so it’s a good stepping stone for us, and moving forward we can take away a lot of things.”
Brian said seeing Ohai, Dunn and Heaberlin in another uniform was “weird, but we’re great friends, all of us.”
The friends parted after a game that left both teams pondering what might have been.
“Getting a point against this team, in the end, when we look back at it, I think we’ll feel good about it,” Swanson said. “Right now it doesn’t feel good, because it’s not what we wanted at home. But I think given the way the game went, and the balance of the game, I think we both can come away and say we each got a point, and maybe that was just.”