Best Games Of 2012-13: No. 1
Today we conclude the countdown of the greatest games of 2012-13 with the final entry. To catch up (or re-read) the earlier entries, click here for games 2-25.
Let's get one thing out of the way up front. Is picking national championship wins for women's soccer, women's tennis and women's lacrosse taking the easy way out? Yes, it is. First-time titles for lacrosse and tennis and No. 22 for soccer were all won in very different ways, ways that perhaps make it impossible to deem one somehow better than another.
But these three national championship wins - all won in incredible, improbable and exhilarating fashion - stand together as the pinnacle of one of the finest athletic years in Carolina history.
Somehow women's soccer's 21st NCAA title and 22nd national championship was the most unlikely of the three when the respective tournaments began. Anson Dorrance's Tar Heels opened the NCAA Championship with a record of 10-5-2, and their 10 regular season wins were the fewest since 1979, the first year of the program.
Despite the record, a high RPI and a schedule that featured 12 games against opponents in the RPI top 30 saw UNC earn a No. 2 seed when the tournament draw was released. After an pair of comfortable home wins over Radford and Illinois, the next three rounds were anything but comfortable. Carolina needed penalties to oust Baylor, two overtimes and a pair of incredible goal-line clearances to survive BYU and another golden goal to beat Stanford to reach the national title game against Penn State.
Kealia Ohai opened the scoring after just 71 seconds with a howitzer off the underside of the crossbar, and for the second time in three games, the Tar Heels held an early lead.
But just as BYU had in the quarterfinals, Penn State equalized before halftime when Taylor Schram chipped over an on-rushing Adelaide Gay in the 19th minute.
Carolina regained the lead just moments after halftime and then extended its lead to 3-1 thanks to a pair of unlikely goalscorers. Hanna Gardner scored just her second goal of the season in the 46th minute on a thumping header off a corner kick before Satara Murray tallied her first and only goal of the year in the 64th minute. Murray's goal was nearly a second for Gardner, whose free header was saved off the line but only as far as Murray, who rifled the rebound into the roof of the Penn State goal.
Ranee Premji ended any lingering drama in the 75th minute when the senior scored on a one-time redirect from Crystal Dunn to make it 4-1.
Ohai was named most valuable offensive player and Murray grabbed defensive MVP honors, but it was an all-around effort for the Tar Heels, who had advanced to the final by the slimmest of margins before finishing the tournament with a dominant performance worthy of the high standards of the program.
Two months later it was women's tennis that would grab the championship spotlight.
The Intercollegiate Tennis Association is the governing body for much of the college tennis season before the NCAA takes over for the spring championship, and the ITA sponsors its own national tournament in February. The 16-team ITA National Team Indoor Championship annually features the country's top programs, 15 of which qualify through an on-campus tournament to join host school Virginia in Charlottesville.
For the 2013 edition, Carolina defeated Auburn and VCU in Chapel Hill to earn a spot as the No. 6 seed in the tournament. As a seeded team, the Tar Heels drew unseeded Texas A&M in the opening round, a match the Tar Heels swept, 4-0. Three months later, the Aggies would finish as national runners-up at the NCAA Championships.
After a thrilling 4-3 win over third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals and a comprehensive 4-0 sweep of second-seeded Duke in the semis, Carolina faced defending champion UCLA in the Monday morning final.
The Tar Heels dropped the doubles point as well as the first completed singles match, meaning that UNC would need to take four of the remaining five singles matches to win the title for the first time in school history.
Senior Gina Suarez-Malaguti started the comeback with perhaps the biggest win of her career, a 6-3, 6-4 win over No. 6 Robin Anderson at the top singles position. Tessa Lyons got her own straight-set win on court six, topping Courtney Dolehide 6-1, 6-4 to even the dual at 2. When Caroline Price finished off Catherine Harrison in three sets on court five, the momentum was squarely in the Tar Heel corner.
But Chanelle Van Nguyen closed out Lauren McHale on court four, meaning the match and the national title would be decided on court three between UCLA senior Pamela Montez and UNC freshman Whitney Kay.
Not only did the deciding match need three sets to find a winner, but it eventually took a tiebreak in the final set. Kay had been the hero of the quarterfinal win over USC with a clinching win, but a third-set tiebreak for a national championship was next level stuff, especially after seeing a match point go by the wayside at 5-4 in the third.
Amazingly, it didn't seem to faze the freshman.
Kay got out to a 4-2 lead at the first changeover and won a pair of points on her serve to get it to 6-3. Montez fought off the first two match points, but Kay hit a clean forehand winner to win the tiebreak, 7-5, and the match, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6.
The win vaulted Carolina to No. 1 in the ITA national poll, a spot it would occupy for the majority of the spring season. The Tar Heels claimed the ACC regular season title and the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Championship. While UCLA would end UNC's bid for a national championship double, the ITA National Indoor title raised the status of the Carolina women's tennis program to never-before-seen heights.
To seek a third national championship in an academic year might seem greedy, but that's exactly what the Carolina women's lacrosse team was after when the Tar Heels opened their season in February. After a season-opening loss to Florida, UNC rolled through the rest of its schedule - including a win over defending national champion Northwestern - save for a pair of losses to undefeated and No. 1 Maryland.
The Terps beat Carolina at Fetzer Field to claim the ACC crown in April, but a bigger prize was at stake for the third meeting that May evening in Villanova, Pa.
The Tar Heels topped Loyola and Virginia in the opening rounds of the NCAA tournament before thumping Northwestern 11-4 in the national semifinal to set up the grudge match with Maryland. The Terps entered the title game with a perfect record of 22-0, and only Carolina in the regular season and Syracuse in the final four had even come close to beating them.
What came next was a Memorial Day weekend classic that captivated Carolina fans around the country, even those that didn't realize just yet that they were women's lacrosse fans.
The timing of the game at 8 p.m. on Sunday night during the holiday weekend and its spot in front of a national audience on ESPNU created a perfect storm of fan interest. Twitter was alive with Tar Heel fans, many of whom had never seen a women's lacrosse game before, rooting on their new favorite team.
Carolina rushed out of the locker room with all the momentum as Brittney Coppa scored twice in a span of 1:07 and the Tar Heels grabbed a 3-0 lead within five minutes. Aly Messinger completed a first-half hat trick seven minutes later and UNC maintained a three-goal advantage for most of the period.
The start of the second half was an ugly flashback to the ACC title game when Maryland went on a 7-1 run to blow open a close game. Led by Tewaaraton Award winner Katie Schwarzmann, the Terps scored five straight goals to take an 11-9 lead with less than 20 minutes remaining.
But unlike in that ACC Championship game, Carolina weathered the storm and nosed back in front. After Coppa's unassisted goal made it 11-10, Kara Cannizzaro scored a pair of goals - the second coming on a free position shot - to push the Tar Heels ahead, 12-11.
Maryland tied it through Alex Aust with four minutes remaining, and the NCAA title would be decided in overtime.
Three overtimes to be precise.
After a pair of scoreless overtime periods, both teams had chances to win it in the third extra stanza. A Tar Heel foul in the opening moments of the third overtime put Maryland in behind the Carolina defense, but freshman goalkeeper Megan Ward stoned Brooke Griffin from point blank range and started a transition opportunity the other way.
Coppa weaved her way through the Maryland defense, carrying the ball more than 50 yards down the middle of the field before finding Sammy Jo Tracy, who fired a low, hard shot past Maryland's Kasey Howard to win it. As the Tar Heels rushed to mob Tracy, officials conducted a lengthy stick check before finally confirming the goal as good and giving Carolina its first national championship in women's lacrosse.
Ward's save and Tracy's goal provided the perfect exclamation point to a game that won Carolina and the sport of women's lacrosse a lot of new fans.
No. 2: Carolina 43, NC State 35 - Football, Oct. 27, 2012
No. 3: Carolina 12, FAU 11 (13 inn.) - Baseball, June 3-4, 2013
No. 4: Carolina 18, Duke 17 - Men's Lacrosse, April 26, 2013
No. 5: Carolina 2, NC State 1 (18 inn.) - Baseball, May 25-26, 2013
No. 6: Carolina 2, BYU 1 (2OT) - Women's Soccer, Nov. 23, 2012
No. 7: Carolina 76, NC State 65 - Men's Basketball, Feb. 23, 2013
No. 8: Carolina 64, Miami 62 - Women's Basketball, Jan. 27, 2013
No. 9: Carolina 6, Syracuse 1 - Field Hockey, Nov. 16, 2012
No. 10: Carolina 1, Stanford 0 (OT) - Women's Soccer, Nov. 30, 2012
No. 11: Carolina 3, Florida State 1 - Volleyball, Nov. 3, 2012
No. 12: Carolina 3, Wisconsin 2 (8 inn.) - Softball, May 16, 2013
No. 13: Carolina 2, Duke 1 (OT) - Men's Soccer, Sept. 28, 2012
No. 14: Carolina 79, Maryland 76 - Men's Basketball, March 16, 2013
No. 15: Carolina 10, Maryland 8 - Men's Lacrosse, March 23, 2013
No. 16: Carolina 72, Maryland 65 - Women's Basketball, March 9, 2013
No. 17: Carolina 4, Maryland 3 (OT) - Field Hockey, Oct. 20, 2012
No. 18: Carolina 11, Northwestern 8 - Women's Lacrosse, Feb. 22, 2013
No. 19: Carolina 4, USC 3 - Women's Tennis, Feb. 9, 2013
No. 20: Carolina 3, California 1 - Volleyball, Nov. 29, 2012
No. 21: Carolina 11, Johns Hopkins 10 (OT), Men's Lacrosse, March 30, 2013
No. 22: Carolina 1, Fairleigh Dickinson 0 (OT) - Men's Soccer, Nov. 25, 2012
No. 23: Peacock Smashes NCAA Record - Swimming and Diving, Dec. 2, 2012
No. 24: UNC's Big Day at ACCs - Track and Field, April 19, 2013
No. 25: Carolina 30, NC State 6 - Wrestling, Feb. 1, 2013