Former Wyoming Valley Conference standouts Kelsey Kolojejchick (14) of Wyoming Seminary and Elizabeth Drazdowski (18) of Crestwood celebrate North Carolina’s national championship game victory against Maryland on Sunday afternoon.PHOTO courtesy of UNC ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS
The action was so fast and furious in the final 12 minutes that Elizabeth Drazdowski doesn’t remember it happening.
Kelsey Kolojejchick says it was living a dream.
When the dust had settled, the two former Wyoming Valley Conference field hockey standouts were locked in an emotional embrace on the artificial surface at Kentner Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C.
And North Carolina was the national champion.
Senior captain Danielle Forword scored the game-winning goal with 11 seconds remaining as North Carolina captured its second NCAA Division I national championship in three years with a thrilling 3-2 win against defending champion Maryland on Sunday afternoon.
“It was an unbelievable comeback victory,” said Drazdowski, a former Crestwood standout. “To be honest, I can’t even remember what happened. I don’t know if I was in a zone or overcome by emotion. It’s was an incredible comeback.”
Forword’s game-winning goal came off a penalty corner that was awarded when Kolojejchick, a former Wyoming Seminary standout, was knocked down by a Maryland defender while dribbling the ball into the circle.
“It’s like a dream,” said Kolojejchick, who was recently named Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year. “I’ve been dreaming about this since I was a junior at Seminary and I decided to come to North Carolina. It’s the most incredible feeling in the world.”
Top-seeded Maryland (23-1) appeared to be on its way to a second consecutive national championship, holding a 1-0 lead against the third-seeded Tar Heels (20-2) with a little more than 10 minutes remaining.
Then things went crazy.
In the final 12 minutes, a Maryland player received a yellow card and was sent off the field; Carolina tied the game; Maryland retook the lead; Carolina called timeout and pulled its goalkeeper; Carolina tied the game; and then won the game in the final seconds.
“Everything was happening so fast,” said Drazdowski, a junior. “It was crazy.”
With her team holding a 1-0 lead and less than 12 minutes remaining, Maryland senior Alexis Pappas received a yellow card, which requires a player to sit out for five minutes without the team being allowed to enter a substitute.
North Carolina wasted little in time in taking advantage of the opportunity. Forword took possession of a loose ball inside the circle and blasted a shot into the cage to tie the game at 1-1 with 9:23 remaining.
The goal appeared to ignite the Terrapins, who responded with a goal of their own just 94 seconds later as Megan Frazer scored off a penalty corner to give Maryland a 2-1 lead with 7:49 remaining.
North Carolina head coach Karen Shelton called timeout and decided to remove goalkeeper Jackie Kinter to give the Tar Heels an extra player in the field.
The gamble paid dividends when senior Illse Davids tied the game at 2-2 on a goal with less than five minutes remaining. Kinter was re-inserted into the game following Davids’ goal.
“Coach (Shelton) always says dare to be brilliant,” said Kolojejchick, who won a Class 2A state championship 51 weeks ago with Wyoming Seminary. “We knew we’d either tie the game or give up another goal. It doesn’t matter if you lose by two goals or by one goal.”
Following a lackluster first half in which they took just one shot on goal, the Tar Heels came out on the attack in the opening minutes of the second half. North Carolina had two penalty corners and two shots in the first four minutes of the second half.
“I think we were incredibly resilient,” said Drazdowski, who was a freshman on the 2007 national championship team. “We showed a lot of perseverance. We knew the first half wasn’t our style of hockey.”
Kolojejchick gave North Carolina its best scoring chance of the first half, blasting a shot from the top of the circle that was saved by Maryland goalkeeper Alicia Grater with just 3:30 remaining before halftime.
North Carolina reeled off 15 consecutive wins to start the season before being dominated by Maryland, 4-1, in the final game of the ACC regular season. The only other defeat suffered by the Tar Heels this season was a 1-0 loss to Virginia in the ACC tournament.
Although neither local player scored a goal or recorded an assist in the championship game, Shelton said Kolojejchick and Drazdowski played a key role in bringing the national title back to Chapel Hill, N.C.
“I think that Kelsey in the first half had a little bit of nerves, but she came alive in the second half and she was a vital part of our run to win the championship,” said Shelton. “Drazy was solid all day. She worked her butt off. We didn’t sub a lot, so we kept her in some long minutes. She was a workhorse today. I’m really proud of both of them.”