CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Illinois’ impressive late-season run ended with a thud.
No. 13 North Carolina had its way in a 9-2 win against the Illini in an NCAA tournament second-round match. Illinois, making its 11th NCAA appearance, finishes 10-9-4.
“There’s no doubt that tonight the wheels fell off the wagon. I am the one who is tasked with making sure the wagon is ready so I take responsibility,” Illinois coach Janet Rayfield said. “We have some young players who learned some great lessons tonight. We will move on and look to be back in this spot better prepared next year.”
A home loss to Northwestern on Oct. 18 had Illinois reeling – and definitely on the NCAA tournament bubble. But the Illini closed with a 3-1-1 burst, advancing to the Big Ten tournament title match, to make the field.
But unlike its opening-round win at Missouri, the Illini’s vaunted defense couldn’t hold up against the Tar Heels.
Nicole Breece scored off a pass from Vanessa DiBernardo to put Illinois ahead 1-0. But North Carolina was ahead 2-1 at halftime and scored four goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half.
DiBernardo left due to injury in the 29th minute and didn’t return.
“There was great moments from this season that we will remember forever,” Rayfield said. “Tonight just won’t be one of them.”