'Gut-wrenching'

Even at their best, sports are the worst. 

It's moments like UNC's overtime loss to Princeton on Sunday in the Women Soccer's edition of the Sweet Sixteen that hurt the most. Add it to a list that includes a 1996 Virginia comeback on the gridiron and a 2012 buzzer-beater by Duke villain Austin Rivers.

UNC dominated control of the game, outshooting and, really, outplaying the Tigers throughout the match. Carolina was supposed to win. On a windy day at WakeMed Soccer Park, the only possible result was a Tar Heel victory. 

Near halfway through the overtime period, senior midfielder Joanna Boyles lined up for a free kick. The shot was beautiful, striking the cross bar and spinning down, yet the ball channeled everything within its powers to keep the game alive - it was as if an invisible force kept the ball from crossing the goal line. 

"It came off and I definitely thought that one was curling in, or nicking the post and going across the line," Boyles, who sat out the 2016 season due to a knee injury, said.

None of it mattered, however, as Princeton scored the golden goal to end the Tar Heels national title hopes. Though UNC goalkeeper Samantha Leshnak made contact with the shot, the ball all-too-slowly trickled into the goal. The Tar Heels fell to the ground, helpless, as they watched their season come to an abrupt end. 

"[It's] pretty gut-wrenching," Boyles said. "The ball didn't go our way today." 

Indeed, UNC had its chances throughout the game. After Princeton scored the game's first goal within the first five minutes, the Tar Heels took over, keeping possession on the offensive side of the field. Sophomore forward Bridgette Andrzejewski scored on a strike from the right side of the box in the first half, tying the game at one apiece. 

Carolina kept up the pressure, but the ball refused to help the Tar Heels as regulation ended. The Princeton counterattack provided the Tigers with nearly every scoring chance, including both of the team's goals. 

"It's been a fabulous year for us," head coach Anson Dorrance said. "We've played some very good soccer, had some wonderful results, and this team is the ACC champion. I'm just sorry we didn't go further into the NCAA tournament..., but I look back on most of the season with wonderful satisfaction." 

The graduating class will now join the Class of 2017 as the only Tar Heel classes to not have won an NCAA Tournament title in the history of the event. Now, UNC Women's Soccer, perhaps the most successful dynasty in the history of collegiate athletics, will have to look to the 2018 season to win its first national title since 2012. 

This one stings, and, for a team that largely plays for its seniors come November, the pain will only persist. 

"Hopefully, the younger classes and younger generations can learn from this," Boyles said. "You can never take a team for granted."