In seeing its school-record nine-match unbeaten streak come to an end with its first loss since Oct. 18, Tennessee concluded the best season in the program's seven-year existence at 18-6-1. Until this fall, UT had never claimed a postseason victory but went on to notch three straight wins en route to its first Southeastern Conference Tournament crown and later knocked off Furman (5-0) and No. 22 Cincinnati (2-1) to reach the Sweet 16.
"I'm really proud of my young ladies," said Tennessee Head Coach Angela Kelly. "They worked extremely hard and they did everything I asked of them. I am proud to be associated with this group. I thought we played a solid first half, but I thought the second goal before halftime was the difference in the game. It really took the wind out of our sails."
"Angie played with an undeniable passion (while at UNC), and I think she's been able to establish that in her players," said North Carolina's legendary mentor, Anson Dorrance. "They (UT) compete, they don't quit, and I think that's a Tar Heel quality."
Tennessee opened the scoring at 18:11 when senior Tara Minnax (Tampa, Fla.) followed in her own rebound inside of the box for her fourth goal of the season. The midfielder had received a cross from sophomore Kayla Lockaby (Hamilton, Ohio) and taken a shot that was blocked by Carolina senior defender Leslie Gaston. However, the ensuing rebound went right back to Minnax, who was able to beat UNC senior Jenni Branam for the 1-0 Lady Vol advantage.
The Tar Heels answered with the tying score at 34:57 when junior defender Catherine Reddick, a starter on the United States National Team, banged home her sixth goal of 2002 off assists from junior Alyssa Ramsey and senior Susan Bush. North Carolina made five straight touches through the midfield before a cross was made as Reddick cut through the area directly in front of Tennessee senior keeper Ellen Dean (Memphis, Tenn.). From there, the first-team All-ACC performer was able to register her fifth goal in the past four outings.
The 'Heels created another offensive thrust in the 36th minute, but the Big Orange defense blocked consecutive chances by Ramsey and sophomore Leigh Blomgren. As the Lady Vols looked to head into the break knotted at a goal apiece, UNC forged ahead with just 1:01 remaining until the half. Freshman phenom Lindsay Tarpley, the Atlantic Coast Conference's Rookie of the Year, was able to find the back of the net for her team-leading 15th goal of the campaign from 10 yards out off assists from Reddick and Blomgren to move the hosts in front to stay at 43:59.
Dorrance's club held a 7-3 advantage in shots during the first 45 minutes and would not allow Tennessee another attempt on goal for the remainder of the contest. Bidding to increase her club's lead to 3-1, Ramsey came in alone on Dean at 49:31 but fired wide right of the target after her angle was cut down by the UT netminder. Bush had another scoring opportunity for Carolina at 60:55, but Dean responded with another key save.
Continuing her squad's offensive pressure on the Lady Vols, Ramsey boosted the Tar Heels' cushion to 3-1 with her 15th goal of the season at 76:32 when her chip from the left wing ricocheted off the right post and across the mouth behind Dean into the left side of the goal. Bush was credited with her 14th helper of the season on the play. The three goals yielded by Tennessee were the most since surrendering four in a loss to Kentucky at the SEC Tournament on Nov. 8, 2001.
"Carolina is Carolina. They wear teams down," said Kelly, who claimed four national championship rings at UNC between 1991-94. "I helped create the beast, and if I can't win I want Carolina and Anson to win. He cultivates individuals and teaches girls that it's OK to battle. He teaches you to create your own philosophy that is always changing, because as soon as you think you've learned everything, that's when you let your guard down."
Six Lady Vol seniors closed their careers -- Cameron Conway (Knoxville, Tenn.), Dean, Jen Laughridge (Wilson, N.C.), Minnax, Kim Patrick (Pleasanton, Calif.) and Cori Stevens (Greensboro, N.C.). Remarkably, Coach Kelly's 11 starters against Carolina logged all 90 minutes.