North Carolina Courage celebrates winning the Challenge Cup title. (Lewis Gettier-USA TODAY Sports)

The North Carolina Courage defeated the Washington Spirit, 2-1, on Saturday to win the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup championship in Cary, N.C.

The match featured goals by Courage striker and Challenge Cup Championship MVP Kerolin Nicoli, along with Spirit forward Ashley Hatch and an own goal by Spirit defender Taylor Aylmer for the 70th-minute game-winner.

“I’ve been a part of championship teams before and we missed out on that the past couple of years,” Courage captain Abby Erceg said, adding that winning a championship “again, it’s really addictive. I said to the team at the start of the year, ‘I really want this team to experience that feeling.’ ”

“Coming into preseason, there was just a feeling about the group, a vibe about the group, a different energy, and it’s a winning energy. I wanted the group to experience that, and I think moving forward, [winning the Challenge Cup] is only going to help in terms of experience. I’m really happy for the girls, I think they’ve done a lot to get to the place that they’re in. I think we were written off quite early, so for them to prove everybody wrong is cool.”

Ten minutes into the match, the Courage found the lead early on Kerolin’s goal, set up by a driving run in by Debinha through the midfield. Debinha slotted a ball in at the top of the 18 yard box, splitting the Washington defense, and landing on the run of Kerolin. The Brazilian striker placed the ball past the reach of goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury and into the lower left corner of the goal.

“She’s different,” Courage head coach Sean Nahas said of Kerolin. “She’s going to be one of the best players in the league, she’s a quality player. The best part to me is that [her skill] is not just on the attacking side, but she defends so well, she works so hard, and she’s bought in. She loves this team and we love her, and she’s only going to get better as she gets more comfortable. She’s going to have to adjust once teams figure her out, but I’m sure she will.”

With 10 minutes remaining in the half, Hatch scored the equalizer. Hatch received a slotted pass from Trinity Rodman onto her run in the box, placing a shot across the face of the goal and into the lower left-hand corner of the net for a 1-1 deadlock.

Defender Carson Pickett set up the game-winner in the 70th minute. She sent a lofted ball to the far post. Diana Ordoñez challenged for the ball, sending a shot in that deflected off Spirit Aylmer, a Spirit defender, and into the back of the net.