By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — There was a time this season when UVa coach Julie Myers worried that her team had lost its will to fight, its competitive spirit. An April 11 loss to Johns Hopkins at Klöckner Stadium left the Cavaliers with a 7-8 record and put them in peril of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in Myers’ 18 seasons as head coach.
What she saw from her players over the past five weeks encouraged Myers, even if the Wahoos’ season didn’t last as long as she would have liked. UVa made the NCAA tournament and won two games before losing 13-9 to third-seeded North Carolina in a quarterfinal Saturday afternoon at Fetzer Field.
“I feel like we got our Virginia spirit back,” Myers said. “I feel like we really had kind of gone through the motions a little bit, probably a little bit more than we realized we were doing. But I feel like about midway through April, when our backs were against the wall, we said, `What are we made of? What do we stand for? What do you want to be known for?’ I think we challenged the fourth-years in particular to lead in a different direction, and they did just that.”
Virginia bounced back from the loss to Hopkins to defeat Virginia Tech 10-5 in the regular-season finale. The `Hoos then upset Duke in the ACC tournament, a victory that effectively extended their season. In the NCAA tourney, UVa defeated Penn and sixth-seeded Georgetown before falling to UNC.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Megan [Dunleavy] and Caroline [McTiernan], the two captains, and the fourth-year class,” Myers said. “Not everybody in the fourth-year class plays every minute, but they all were able to really contribute to changing things around.”
The Cavaliers (11-10) advanced past the NCAA tourney’s first round for the first time since 2010 and only the second time since 2007, when they reached the Final Four.
UVa’s bid to get back to the semifinals was derailed almost immediately Saturday in a game whose start was delayed about 20 minutes by rain. UNC (16-3) won the first three draw controls and quickly turned each of those victories into a goal.
Fifty-four seconds in, the Tar Heels led 3-0, and the Cavaliers had yet to touch the ball.
“I thought the key to the game obviously was how we started,” said UNC coach Jenny Levy, a 1992 alumna of Virginia, where her teammates included Myers.
When these teams met during the regular season, March 9 in Chapel Hill, Carolina won 8-7, but Virginia had a 12-5 advantage in draw controls. In the rematch, UNC, led by senior Emily Garrity, won 16 of 24 draw controls and took full advantage of its edge in time of possession.
“It was probably statistically our weakest showing on the draw,” Myers said. “I thought Carolina did a great job. Usually the team that jumps quickest on the whistle and just works the hardest comes up with the ball, and sure enough the ball kept bouncing to Carolina. It seemed like we would be on the scene, and before you knew it Carolina came out with it. So again I credit Carolina with just working harder than we worked on the draw.”
UVa’s first goal, off a pass from sophomore Casey Bocklet to freshman Kelly Boyd, made it 4-1 with 24:51 left in the first of the two 30-minute halves. Bocklet then scored off an assist from junior Ashlee Warner to make it 4-2, and it appeared the `Hoos had steadied themselves. But UVa struggled to fend off UNC’s offensive barrage, and a goal that would have made it 6-3 was taken away after officials penalized Warner for an illegal stick.
At halftime it was 10-2, and UVa goalie Kim Kolarik had not been credited with a save. She finished with five, and her play in the cage helped the Cavaliers stage a rally that injected some drama into the second half.
After falling behind 11-2, Virginia slowly awakened. It was still a nine-goal game, at 13-4, with 16 minutes left, but goals by Warner, Boyd and sophomore Courtney Swan, who scored twice during the run, helped UVa close to 13-8 with 9:17 left. The score stayed the same, though, until the 1:45 mark, when an unassisted goal by sophomore attacker Liza Blue made it 13-9.
“Everyone was really into the comeback,” Boyd said. “I know we’ve come back before in other games, so I was hopeful. I was excited. I thought it could have been possible, but I knew we kind of dug ourselves into a hole early on in the game by getting down. I really did think we had a chance at one point. We just ran out of time.”
Myers said: “We knew it was going to take a perfect game on our end to be able come up with the win today, and we clearly weren’t perfect. If we re-do that first minute, I think we’ve got ourselves a good chance to win. But I’m proud of our effort, especially in that second half. We challenged the girls at halftime to come out and play a whole lot better, stronger, faster, and to play with the spirit that we’re used to seeing. And I think our fourth-years in particular led the charge, and our team followed along.”
Virginia started five seniors Saturday: Dunleavy, McTiernan, Kolarik, Anne Thomas and Lelan Bailey.
“I think we did a really good job fighting back,” Dunleavy said. “We just didn’t have enough time at the end.”
Dunleavy, a defender, was one of three Cavaliers named to the All-ACC team, along with sophomore attacker Dana Boyle and Swan, a midfielder. Bocklet, an attacker who led the `Hoos with 67 points (44 goals, 23 assists) this season, was named a third-team All-American.
Every player who had a goal or assist Saturday for UVa has eligibility remaining. Boyd came off the bench to score a team-high three goals, and Bocklet and Warner had two assists apiece.
Boyd, whose twin, Brooke, also is on the team, did not make her college debut until Virginia’s seventh game, an 18-5 rout of William and Mary. In her 12 games, Boyd scored 12 goals.
“Pretty much she plays because she doesn’t miss very often,” Myers said. “She catches most everything and is a great shooter. So I’m super-excited to see Kelly, just a first-year, go out with three goals on three shots.”
Boyd said: “It’s really upsetting to see the season end, but I’ve had a great experience so far, and it’s going to be sad saying good-bye to all the fourth-years. But they’ve made it a really good year, and I think they showed a lot of heart, especially the second half of the season, when we could have let the season go. But we really picked it back up, and I think we showed that we’re capable of a lot, and I’m hopeful for the future.”