Two incredible late-game performances got William and Mary to the NCAA tournament, but a second-half letdown sent the Tribe (17-3-2, 10-1 CAA) packing with a 4-1 loss at North Carolina Saturday.
The defeat put an end to one of the Tribe’s most impressive seasons in recent history after the team captured its 10th CAA championship just a week earlier in the 93rd minute against Virginia Commonwealth.
Saturday was a different story, though. Three unanswered UNC goals in the second half were the difference in round one of the NCAA tournament.
“We had a couple of decent chances, but we were on the back foot a lot of the time,” head coach John Daly said. “The goals we conceded were disappointing, but the amount of pressure they put on us in the second half really made the difference.”
The Tar Heels got out to an early lead when forward Alyssa Rich scored on a header in the 10th minute. But the Tribe would answer back on a set play in the 15th. Junior midfielder Cortlyn Bristol sent a corner kick into the box and found senior defender Diana Weigel, who controlled the cross and fired a strike from 25 yards out past UNC goalkeeper Adelaide Gay to tie the game at one.
Weigel’s third goal of the season came on one of just two Tribe shots all half, but a stout performance from the College’s defense kept the score even through a barrage of eight first-half shots from the Tar Heels. Junior goalkeeper Katherine Yount recorded five saves in the first 45 minutes.
But the constant pressure from the Tar Heels was too much for the Tribe to hold off in the second frame. UNC took the first five shots after halftime, and finally broke the tie in the 67th minute when midfielder Rebecca Crabb sprinted to the near post and got her head on a corner kick, sending the ball past Yount and into the back of the net.
“We didn’t clear balls in the air very well,” Daly said. “We defended our set plays pretty well this season, but on Saturday we didn’t do as good as we would’ve liked.”
Less than a minute later, the Tribe had its best chance to knot it up again. Junior midfielder Mallory Schaffer, whose magnificent regular season and CAA tournament performances contributed greatly to the College’s presence in the NCAA tournament, found herself with an open look at goal from about 16 yards out. But the CAA’s leading goal-scorer and conference Player of the Year couldn’t connect, sending the shot above the cross bar and out of play.
Daly attributed some of the team’s missed opportunities to fatigue and injury, adding that Schaffer was playing the game with bruised ribs.
“One of the difficulties when you get to this stage is you’re playing two games every weekend,” he said. “That takes a toll, we had a lot of injuries.”
The Tar Heels went on to control the game down the stretch, using their high tempo to score twice more in the final 17 minutes and secure the first round victory.
“It was mainly because of the pressure that they exert,” Daly said. “They’re a very athletic team, and they pressure all over the field; it makes it tough to build your attacks. I was aware of the way they play, so we spent a lot of time during the week emphasizing the need to play with speed, but when you’re out on the field it’s very different.”
Still, Daly was happy with the Tribe’s season as a whole. The College’s records overall and in the conference were the program’s best since 2006 — the Tribe was ranked as high as No. 14 in the nation going into Saturday’s matchup.
“It was a great season,” he said. “The kids worked very hard both in the strength and conditioning room and out on the field. They really did us proud all season long and from an enjoyment standpoint. From my point of view, it was one of the most enjoyable ever. Overall, a great performance by all of them.”
The College will graduate just three seniors, with Weigel being the only who regularly started this season. Otherwise, the Tribe will return much of the same conference-winning core in 2012.