It marked the third year in a row that UNC has finished as the runner-up by a 3-2 score. Carolina won the 2009 title over Maryland 3-2, then lost to the Terrapins in overtime 3-2 in 2010 and 2011.
"I want to congratulate Princeton on a stellar year," UNC coach Karen Shelton said. "It was a typical national championship game - there were some ebbs and flows to it. I thought both teams fought incredibly hard. We were pleased to get an early goal, but Princeton fought back - it was a game of turns.
"But I'm incredibly proud of our kids and our effort. I told the team this morning that I didn't want how I felt about our effort and our season to get lost in whether we won or lost (today). We had a really good year.
"I'm proud of the group. I'm disappointed with the loss, but that's sport - you win some and you lose some, and that's the way it goes."
UNC scored first, on a corner in the 12th minute of play. On the team's fourth corner of the game, sophomore Charlotte Craddock sent a shot past Princeton goalkeeper Christina Maida. Seniors Katie Ardrey and Kelsey Kolojejchick, both of whom rank in UNC's top four for career assists, assisted on the play.
Princeton answered in the 18th minute, on its first corner of the game. Senior Kathleen Sharkey, who leads the nation in scoring, took the shot, which bounced off a UNC defender and into the goal. Assists went to Katie Reinprecht and Julia Reinprecht.
UNC had five shots and six corners in the 1-1 first half, while Princeton had six shots and five corners.
Carolina moved ahead again in the 47th minute. With UNC playing man-up while a Princeton player was sidelined by a yellow card, Craddock launched a shot and senior Katie Plyler, positioned right beside the Princeton keeper, deflected it in from the left side of the cage to put the Tar Heels up 2-1.
Princeton tied the game in the 57th minute. Ammer saved the Tigers' first shot, by Sharkey, but Allison Evans gathered the rebound on the other side and scored from the left post to make the score 2-2.
The Tigers took their first lead of the game on a penalty stroke called with 10:06 to play. On the first stroke by a Tar Heel opponent this season, Amanda Bird sent her shot past Ammer to put Princeton up 3-2.
Shelton called a timeout at 8:04 and pulled Ammer in favor of an extra field player, which is how UNC played the rest of the game. With four forwards - Craddock, Jaclyn Gaudioso Radvany, Loren Shealy and Sinead Loughran - in the game, UNC quickly drew two corners but was unable to score on either.
The Tar Heels finished with 13 shots, eight of them in the second half, but weren't able to get the equalizer and fell short of gaining the seventh crown in program history.
No. 2 Princeton 3, No. 1 North Carolina 2
Scoring: UNC - Charlotte Craddock (Katie Ardrey, Kelsey Kolojejchick), 11:26; PU - Kathleen Sharkey (Julia Reinprecht, Katie Reinprecht), 17:01; UNC - Katie Plyler (Craddock), 46:03; PU - Allison Evans, 56:44; PU - Amanda Bird (penalty stroke), 59:52
Shots: UNC 13 (5/8), PU 11 (6/5)
Penalty corners: UNC 10 (6/4), PU 7 (5/2)
Goalkeeper saves: UNC 7 (Sassi Ammer, 61:56, 7 saves, 3 goal allowed; Team, 8:04); PU 6 (Christina Maida, 70:00, 6 saves, 2 goal allowed)
Defensive saves: PU 1 (Katie Reinprecht)
Records: UNC 23-2, PU 21-1