January 26, 2014

U.S. Women Edge Tough UNC, 16-15

by Sean Burns | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

In-Game Blog Replay


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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla – A timely Kelly Berger pass off a last-second free position found Katie Rowan on the doorstep, where she converted for her only goal of the game to lead the U.S. Women past North Carolina in a 16-15 overtime thriller at the Champion Challenge at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.

The points were the Team USA World Cup veterans only on the day, but came at the crucial moment for the only points in the pair of three minute overtime periods after the defending NCAA champion and defending FIL World Cup champion battled to a 15-15 tie in regulation.

"We know we're going to get everybody's best when we play them, and [North Carolina] is a phenomenal team, so this was a great test for us," said Team USA captain Lindsey Munday, who had a goal and four assists in the game. "It's good to have to come from behind and play a full 60 minutes, and see people step up and make huge plays when we needed them."

Syracuse sophomore Kayla Treanor stepped up in a big way for Team USA, leading all scorers with seven goals and two assists, earning Most Outstanding Player honors for the first contest. She earned a well-deserved break in the second scrimmage of the day, where the U.S. Women took a 15-3 win over the Tar Heels, completing the weekend 4-0 after 16-10 and 19-4 wins over Maryland on Saturday evening in a similar double-header.

"It's such an honor to play with this team and I was happy to be a part of this great weekend," said Treanor, who also played with her Orange teammates on Friday evening in a 25-0 win over Stetson to open the Champion Challenge.

Senior Abbey Friend anchored the Carolina offense in its near-miss against the world champions, scoring four times and assisting on another three as the Tar Heels rallied from a five-goal deficit at the half to storm back in the second.

Down 10-5, Carolina opened the second half by scoring nine of the next 11 goals, with runs of four, three and two broken only by Kayla Treanor goals, a stretch that ended with Carolina holding a one-goal lead with six minutes left on the clock. The swing came largely from a big advantage in draw controls – UNC held a 12-4 advantage in the second – and some big play from UNC freshman goalie Caylee Waters, who made eight saves in the half.

Kayla Treanor had a monster game for the U.S. Women, scoring seven times and adding two assists. (Scott McCall - Front page image by John Strohsacker)

"We recruit our team to play, and if you're ready, you'll be in there," said North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy, who also had key performances from freshmen Sydney Holman (3G), Molly Hendrick (2G) and Maggie Bill (2G). "We're going to rely on [these girls] this season. They don't have the game experience yet, but they have the instincts and show that on the field."

Down the stretch, The U.S. Women recaptured the lead on a Treanor free position shot, but then Carolina equalized once again with a minute left on an Aly Messinger (2G) score to send it to overtime.

After spending the first 5:50 of overtime still deadlocked, Rabil (who fans may better remember as Kelly Berger prior to her recent wedding to Team USA men's player Paul Rabil) was awarded a free position and the U.S. Women were able to convert and take home the win in front of the fans in Florida and the many more watching live via ESPN3 (Watch ESPN).

For Team USA, the win was the second to last act in a solid first weekend of 2014 play, beginning the process of building towards the 2017 FIL World Cup in Surrey, England. The unbeaten record against two teams expected to be at or near the top of the collegiate game in 2014 was solid, but the three days of work were more about building towards the future.

"It's always a difficult transition," Team USA coach Ricky Fried said. "You have a team that plays in the World Cup and then you have to bring everybody back together and it's hard. But they did a great job of coming together this weekend, and we build from here for the next three years. We're excited about what we've done in the past, but we're looking forward for the future as well."

The Tar Heels can take away a great deal from their performance against the national team, particularly the confidence booster that they went toe-to-toe with the same team that swept ACC rival (and 2013 NCAA finals opponent) Maryland the night before.

"This definitely gives us momentum going into the season," Friend said. "We've never played a game like this early in the season, and it was an awesome experience to play the best girls in the country."

North Carolina did have a setback when senior Brittney Coppa went out with a leg injury in the first half. She will be evaluated by North Carolina training staff upon her return to Chapel Hill, but was heavily bandaged and on crutches for the rest of her team's time on the field.

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