UCLA women’s soccer pulls off miracle comeback to win NCAA title

There’s pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and then there’s what UCLA did.

Maricarmen Reyes scored a game-winning goal on a 107th-minute rebound and seeded UCLA rallied North Carolina 3-2 on Monday night to claim its second women’s soccer championship in program history.

UCLA (22-2-1) trailed 2-0 late in the second half before scoring two goals in the final 10 minutes to force overtime. In the second 10-minute overtime, Ally Cook had a point-blank shot cleared by North Carolina keeper Emmie Allen, but Reyes raced to the ball for a slippery finish from a difficult angle.

The Bruins became the first women’s soccer program in NCAA history to win the title with a freshman head coach. And coach Margueritte Aozasa’s side were also the first to come back from a two-goal deficit to win the national title.

UCLA blitzed the Tar Heels throughout the second half and scored a corner kick with just 17 seconds left in regulation to force overtime.

“I said to the team at half-time: ‘We are going to have our chances and we are going to score a free kick tonight.’ I had no idea it would be such a monumental setting,” Aozasa said. “And I also believe that good things happen to good people. And this particular group is full of special, special people.

UCLA made the necessary adjustments at halftime. The Bruins took only minutes to land a pair of quality transition shots from Sunshine Fontes. And they were able to regain their offensive form after Avery Patterson’s first goal, beating North Carolina 11-4 until the end of regulation. Winger Lexi Wright found the back of the net in the 79th minute. With the Heels leading 2-1, it seemed like that was enough to make the final minutes a bit more suspenseful.

But UCLA never let go. And with just 30 seconds left, Ally Lemos served a perfect corner and Reilyn Turner headed it in from the far post.

“It’s just that heart and that guts just to work every second of the game until that whistle blows,” Turner said. “With this team you can never, ever, ever give up, because we will always come back. And we will support each other and work until the last second of the game.

UCLA’s offensive barrage in the second half allowed only a few breaks for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels made the most of it. In the 58th minute, they pushed an interception into a counter, got a cross from Emily Moxley on the right wing, and the Bruins couldn’t keep everyone scored. Patterson entered her defender for a free header to open the scoring.

The Tar Heels repeated the process in the 74th minute, but with Libby Moore serving at the center. UCLA lost 2-0 despite being in control for most of the second half.

“What was great was that without any tactical adjustments, the mentality of the team changed. So you could see, as soon as that second goal happened, we were on the front foot,” Aozasa said. “And we were actually going to change the system earlier, but there was a good five minutes after the second goal where we had a ton of momentum, and we were like, ‘OK, let’s go for a bit. “”

UCLA players celebrate after beating North Carolina on Monday.

(Ben McKeown/Associated Press)

UCLA celebrates after beating North Carolina to win the NCAA women’s soccer title on Monday night.

(Ben McKeown/Associated Press)

Unlike their semifinal win over Alabama, the Bruins were pushed on their heels to start. North Carolina dominated possession in the first 35 minutes with tackles and interceptions in midfield. Tar Heels midfielders pressed better than the Bruins, and the North Carolina backline consistently cut UCLA’s passing angles in transition. The Tar Heels, however, never got too close: North Carolina was only allowed three shots on goal, all low percentage shots directly on goaltender Lauren Brzykcy.

“This is one of the biggest finals I’ve personally been in,” Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance said. “Back and forth, lots of goals, extra time, the drama of the sport – one team goes up, the other goes down. … I think everyone who took part in it, of the players on both rosters, should be given credit, because it was a wonderful selling piece for the women’s college football game.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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