Between penalty kicks, heartbreaking goals allowed, shooting barrages from opponents, and several other dramatic moments, the Nittany Lions had conquered it all to arrive at the finals of the College Cup. Yesterday afternoon, in sunny San Diego, the magic ran out as the powerhouse North Carolina Tar Heels defeated the Nittany Lions 4-1 to take home their twenty-first national championship.
Forward Kealia Ohai put the Tar Heels in front less than two minutes into the contest as she buried a shot over the heard of keeper Erin McNulty. The Nittany Lions, however, were not strangers to a slow start, and immediately went to work. Senior midfielder Christine Nairn and junior forward Maya Hayes both generated good scoring chances before Taylor Schram caught Tar Heels goalie Adelaide Gay out of position in the 18th minute and scored off an assist from Nairn to tie the game.
The game remained deadlocked as both teams headed for the locker room at halftime, but Schram’s goal would be the last time the Nittany Lions would celebrate on the day. The second half had a similar start to the first as North Carolina took a 2-1 lead when Hanna Gardner scored off a Katie Bowen corner kick 48 seconds into the second set. This was one goal that the Nittany Lions did not have an answer for.
The Tar Heels did not sit back, scoring again 18 minutes later as Satara Murray scored off a rebound for an insurance goal. Ranee Premji added the dagger in the 74th minute to put the game out of reach at 4-1. The score would hold for the final fifteen minutes as the Nittany Lions came up short in their first ever national title game.
Following the disappointing defeat, head coach Erica Walsh told GoPSUSports that her players ran out of gas. “It wasn’t through lack of effort, just fatigue. I give credit to [North] Carolina today. They were the better team.” North Carolina controlled much of the game with twice as many corner kicks and shots as Penn State.
Walsh would proceed to praise the senior class for their dedication while pointing out the education that the younger players received from the playoff run.
“As a sophomore, I can say that we know what it takes to get here now, and going into next season, myself and the juniors and the seniors are going to look to lead us to this point again. This isn’t normal for us, but we’re going to make it a standard that we have to get to,” said sophomore Emily Hurd.
The Nittany Lions conclude the season with a 21-4-2 overall record. While they may want to forget the ninety minutes that transpired on Sunday, several iconic memories from the season and playoff run will live on.