SAN DIEGO -- Anson Dorrance has coached at North Carolina for all of the Tar Heels' 21 NCAA women's soccer championships, and he appreciates each title more and more.
A rare No. 2 seed and 13th ranked in the nation when the tournament began, North Carolina scored three goals in the second half to beat Penn State 4-1 Sunday for its latest championship. The Tar Heels (15-5-3), making their 26th appearance in the final four College Cup, won for the first time since 2009.
"The classic question is always does it ever get old," said Dorrance, who has coached the program since its inception in 1979. "Well honestly it gets better. This was really a lot of fun for me ... This is one of those years that it was a chemistry miracle."
Penn State, which was playing in its first title game, finished its season at 21-4-2.
With the game tied 1-1, Hanna Gardner scored 48 seconds into the second half when she converted Katie Bowen's corner kick with a header past Penn State goalkeeper Erin McNulty. It was Gardner's second goal of the season.
"When our team scores goals it builds confidence," said North Carolina's Kealia Ohai, who was selected the tournament's most outstanding player on offense. "And we kind of knew that if we could get one it would completely change the game. So when Hanna got that goal it really lifted our team."
Penn State coach Erica Walsh also thought Gardner's goal turned the game in North Carolina's favor.
"The story of this game can be told in the timing of these goals," Walsh said. "When you have the momentum, having tied the game in the first half and the second half is starting and everything is in front of you and all of a sudden there is a ball in the back of the net that you are picking out, you are constantly searching for answers at that point and that's what Carolina did to us, kept us looking for the next answer."
And it did not come.
Satara Murray, who had set up the Tar Heels first goal early in the opening half, made it 3-1 in the 64th minute when she put home a rebound of a shot by Kelly McFarlane. It was her first goal of the season.
A little over 10 minutes later North Carolina's Crystal Dunn set up Ranee Premji on a pass from the end line on the left wing and Premji made a one-touch volley to cap the scoring.
"Everytime we tried something, Carolina came back with something else," Walsh said. "On this day Carolina was the better team and I think the score line is a good indicator of this game went and credit goes to them today."
North Carolina took a 1-0 lead in the second minute of play in the first half as Ohai rifled a shot on her left foot from just outside the top of the box 18 yards out into the upper right hand corner of the net. Murray had set the scoring play up with perfect high ball that led Ohai perfectly. For Ohai, who scored the overtime game-winner in North Carolina's semifinal final, the goal was her ninth of the season.
Penn State got even in the 26th minute when Christine Nairn slipped a pass through three North Carolina defenders to Taylor Schram on the left wing and Schram shot over goalie Adelaide Gay into the far right hand corner. It was Schram's fifth goal of the season.
North Carolina outshot Penn State, 24-12 for the game, including 9-4 in the first half and 15-8 in the second.
"To have this kind of finish is just extraordinary," Dorrance said. "I think we overachieved. I thought our NCAA seeding was too high. I thought we should have been a third seed. So when we were second I thought that was a great break."
Dorrance noted how the tournament has changed so much over his 34 years of coaching.
"It's a longer tournament now," he said. "Back in the real old days I think you played one game you were in the final four and you had to win two games. Now it's a trek -- a six game marathon -- and it's not easy. A single game elimination any one can lose, we could have lost, so I consider our championship obiously marvelous, but we definitely got some breaks along the way."