BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Despite a furious comeback attempt in the waning minutes, the Virginia Tech women’s soccer team fell to No. 1 North Carolina, 2-1, at Thompson Field on Thursday evening.
The Hokies battled the Tar Heels, who entered the match as the defending national champions and are the top-ranked team in all three national polls, to the last minute. Tech scored late and fell inches short of a comeback when freshman forward Murielle Tiernan’s potential game-tying header found the gloves of UNC goalkeeper Bryane Headberlin.
“We competed and battled for everything tonight,” Head Coach Chugger Adair said. “UNC is not a very easy team to play against. They’re very athletic and very physical and I thought we did a good job tonight.”
The teams were evenly matched through much of the first half, as the Hokies had multiple threatening chances in the offensive third. Sophomore Ashley Meier tallied a pair of shots early, including a volleyed attempt from 20 yards in the 15th minute that sailed just over the crossbar.
At the 19-minute mark, the Hokies almost found a breakthrough again, as both Meier and senior forward Jazmine Reeves had shots from inside of 12 yards blocked by lunging defenders.
As the opening period wore on, the Tar Heels grabbed more of the possession, tallying four shots between the 22nd and 35th minute. The last of these opportunities broke the deadlock.
Paige Nielsen did the damage for UNC after collecting a loose ball near the top of the box. Nielsen took a pair of dribbles to the right side of the box and ripped a right-footed shot that arched just over the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Dayle Colpitts and into the upper-right corner of the net, giving the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead in the 35th minute.
Neither side would register another shot as the first half ticked away. At the end of the period, Tech had tallied just four shots to the Tar Heels’ eight, though Colpitts had grabbed four saves to hold UNC to the 1-0 advantage.
The second half began with a flurry of activity, with both sides having good opportunities to score. Reeves had the Hokies' best chance of the opening minutes, pulling down a long ball from the midfield before a slide-tackle deflected her close-range shot away from goal.
UNC was again the first to capitalize on a good chance, as Kealia Ohai doubled the Tar Heels’ advantage in the 60th minute. Crystal Dunn pounced on a ball in the midfield and took off on a breakaway, drawing a pair of defenders to her. The forward slipped a pass through to Ohai at the top of the box, who took a touch to her right and fired a one-on-one shot that gave UNC a 2-0 advantage.
After the second goal, neither side found much of a footing, as both teams struggled to control the midfield and only five shots were taken in the next 25 minutes. However, the Hokies would throw themselves after the comeback in the waning moments as a steady downpour overtook Thompson Field.
In the 87th minute, Reeves used her head to pull a goal back for Tech after a Katie Yensen corner kick. Yensen’s cross bent in and was headed straight up in the air by a crowd of players. The ball fell to Reeves on the left post, who nodded it in to cut the defecit to 2-1.
With just 18 seconds on the clock, a streaking Tiernan headed a long ball out of the Tech defense toward goal, but Headberlin managed to corral the shot with her fingertips to leave the Hokies inches from a last-gasp, game-tying goal as the clock ran out.
“It was unfortunate that we gave up the goal in the first half that put us behind,” Adair said. “But then I think we did a good job of fighting our way back and scoring a goal of our own. We pushed at the end and, if that header goes in at the end, we tie it up. I’m really proud of the girls for tonight’s effort.”
Reeves and Meier paced the Hokie offense, racking up three shots each. Ohai and Dunn were the threats for UNC all evening, as the two combined for 10 shots and kept the Tech defense on its heels for much of the match.
Colpitts recorded seven saves on the evening for Tech, a season-high for the senior. Anna Sielhoff, who started the match in goal for the Tar Heels, was not forced to make a save, while Headberlin, who entered the match at halftime, tallied her only save on Tiernan’s last-minute header.
The loss, Tech’s first of the season, drops the Hokies to 5-1-1 on the season, including a 0-1-0 mark in ACC play. UNC is now 7-0-0 on the year with a 1-0-0 record in conference play.
Tech will be back on the field at home on Sunday afternoon, when they take on ACC-newcomer Syracuse at Thompson Field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon and live stats and video will be available.
For updates on Virginia Tech women's soccer, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_WSoccer).