UCLA’s Reilyn Turner on late rally to win NCAA title: ‘We will always come back’

(Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

UCLA women’s soccer was down but never out.

Trailing by two goals late in Monday’s national championship game against North Carolina, the Bruins managed the near-impossible: a last-minute equalizer, and then a game-winner in overtime to take the 3-2 win and the title.

“What was great is without any tactical adjustments, the team’s mentality shifted. So you could see, as soon as that second goal happened, we were on the front foot,” UCLA head coach Margueritte Aozasa said after the game.

She became the first rookie coach to win an NCAA women’s soccer title. Even after the Tar Heels took the lead with goals in the 59th and 75th minutes, Aozasa and UCLA did not give up.

“We were actually going to change systems earlier,” she said. “But there was like a solid five minutes after the second goal where we actually had a ton of momentum, and we were like, ‘OK, let’s ride this out a little bit.’”

The Bruins notched their first goal in the 80th minute as Lexi Wright put away a second-chance opportunity. Sunshine Fontes was credited for an assist after her laser of a shot was blocked by goalkeeper Emmie Allen and ricocheted to Wright.

UCLA scored again 10 minutes later, as Reilyn Turner tied the game on a header off a corner kick with just 16 seconds left on the clock.

One overtime period passed without either team getting back on the scoreboard, but UCLA took the lead for the first time with a little over three minutes left in the second overtime period.

Maricarmen Reyes scored on a rebound, beating Allen on the second shot.

“I’m just amazed by this team and the grit that they show and the character they showed today,” Aozasa said. “I even had my doubts at 2-0, but quite honestly no one on the field did and they just found a way.”

The game marked the first time a team came back from down two goals to win the national championship. It was also just the second time UCLA had trailed by two goals all season.

Still, for Turner, the win was an embodiment of the team’s mentality all season.

“It’s just that heart and that grit just to work for every single second of the game until that whistle is blown,” Turner said. “With this team, you can never, ever, ever give up, because we will always come back. And we will have each other’s back and work to the last second of the game.”

But as UCLA celebrates their win, fans of the game have reason to celebrate too. The effects of an instant classic like this one could reverberate around the sport for years to come.

“This is one of the greatest finals I’ve personally ever been involved in,” Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance said.

Notably, Dorrance has led UNC since 1979 and has coached the program to all 21 of its NCAA championships.

“Up and back, lots of goals, overtime, the drama of sport — one team goes up, the other one claws their way back,” Dorrance said. “I think everyone that participated in it, from the players on both rosters ought to be credited, because this was a wonderful sales piece for the women’s collegiate soccer game.”