UNC women’s lacrosse looks to write new ending

The Tar Heels, 20-0 for the second straight year, hope to avoid another Final Four upset

UNC women's lacrosse coach Jenny Levy, pictured in 2015, has led the Tar Heels to a 20-0 record and a return to the national semifinals. (Chris Szagola / AP Photo)

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.

North Carolina, undefeated at 20-0 and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament, returns to the Final Four after a tight three-goal win over Stony Brook to face an opponent in the national semifinal that they’ve already beaten by double-digits this season.

So far in 2022, the Tar Heels are following the same script as they did last season when they were upset 11-10 by Boston College in the national semifinals. The powerful UNC offense was held to 10 goals or fewer for just the second time in the season.

“Unfortunately for us, we just didn’t do what we normally do, which is executive offensively,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said after the game. “We held them to just three goals in the second half, but the offense wasn’t able to step up.”

The defense gave up eight goals before halftime, putting Carolina in a hole it couldn’t climb out of. The 11 scores surrendered matched a season high for the Heels.

“We’re obviously very disappointed in the result,” Levy said, “but it was a fun journey along the way getting here with this group, a time you can never replace.”

Levy and her Tar Heels hope that the déjà vu ends here, as they head to Baltimore for their fourth straight Final Four and the 13th in program history. UNC will be looking for its third national title and first since 2016.

After ending last season with the crushing defeat, the Tar Heels have put together another perfect season — so far. UNC is 20-0 on the season, tied for the second-longest winning streak in program history. The 20 wins are also tied for the most in program history — with the national title team of 2016 and last season’s near miss.

Half of those wins have been by 10 goals or more, including a 24-2 demolition of Virginia in UNC’s first game in the NCAA Tournament.

The Heels have held 15 opponents below 10 goals, including the last three. Before their 8-5 win over Stony Brook and its difficult zone defense in the last round, Carolina had scored 14 or more in every game this season, and it is now 14-0 against ranked opponents.

Carolina has been on a mission this season, but the memories of last year are still firmly in the back of the team’s mind. The low-scoring scare against Stony Brook in the last round clearly brought some of those demons to the forefront.

“I would rather have a hard game and challenging game than a breeze-through one,” goalie Taylor Moreno said. “So I thought this was huge for us.”

The Tar Heels will face four-seed Northwestern in Friday afternoon’s semifinal. UNC has already beaten the Wildcats this year, posting a 20-9 win in Chapel Hill back in early March. Of course, last year, Carolina beat Boston College in Chapel Hill in early March by a 21-9 margin before facing the Eagles in the Final Four, so déjà vu again rears its head.

The Wildcats blew out Central Michigan in the first round, 22-7, then survived against Michigan, 15-12. They earned their rematch with Carolina by beating No. 5 Syracuse, 15-4. The Heels survived a 14-12 game at Syracuse late in the regular season, their second-closest score of the year.

All four top seeds advanced to the Final Four, with the winner of UNC-Northwestern facing the winner of No. 2 Maryland and No. 3 Boston College in the national title game. It’s a blue-blood Final Four. Northwestern joins UNC in making their 13th appearance, which is the third-most in the history of the sport. Maryland leads the way with 28 Final Four trips.

The Tar Heels are led by five All-Americans. Fifth-year attacker Jamie Ortega has won the last two ACC Attacker of the Year awards. She’s the ACC’s all-time leader in points, second in NCAA history and has tallied a point in 83 straight games.

Midfielder Ally Mastroianni and defender Emma Trenchard joined Ortega on the first team. Like Ortega, Mastroianni is a repeat ACC position award winner, winning Midfielder of the Year for the second straight season. Trenchard was named the ACC’s Defender of the Year for the second time after previously winning in 2019. Defender Emily Nalls is a second-teamer, and goalkeeper Moreno made the third team.

All of which brings Carolina to the same point in the season where things came crashing down last year.

“Sometimes you don’t have to win pretty,” Levy said after the last game. “You just need to advance. … We’re not going to hang onto this too long.”