UNC survives semifinal scare, wins women’s lacrosse title

The Tar Heels won their third national championship after an epic comeback

UNC players celebrate after winning the NCAA women's lacrosse championship against Boston College in Baltimore on Sunday. (Vincent Alban / The Baltimore Sun via AP)

North Carolina capped an undefeated season by winning its third women’s lacrosse national championship in program history. The Tar Heels topped Boston College 12-11 on Sunday to win its first title since 2016.

It almost didn’t happen, however, as the Heels gave new meaning to the phrase “survive and advance” in the national semifinal two days earlier.

On a rainy Friday afternoon, the Tar Heels came out of the locker room sluggish and watched Northwestern score the first six goals of the game, putting a trip to the national championship game in deep jeopardy.

The Heels were shut out by the Wildcats in the first period, getting outshot 10-4 and sitting through a rain delay of more than an hour and a half late in the quarter.

UNC showed that the Northwestern goal wasn’t blocked in the second period, breaking up the shutout, but the Heels couldn’t cut into the Northwestern lead, trailing 8-2 at halftime, the lowest-scoring half of the year for the Tar Heels. Carolina also gave up almost as many goals to Northwestern in the first half as they did in the entire regular season matchup with the Wildcats — a 20-9 UNC win.

Halftime adjustments didn’t change anything on the scoreboard, as the Tar Heels fell farther behind in the third, trailing by as much as eight before facing a 13-6 deficit entering what was looking like their last period of the season. The two teams traded goals early in the fourth, and the clock slipped below 10 minutes remaining.

North Carolina exploded over the final 9:15, scoring the game’s last eight goals, including Sam Geiersbach’s game-winner with 1:03 remaining. It was Geiersbach’s fifth goal of the day, all coming in the Tar Heels’ final six scores.

“They came out and punched us in the mouth, clearly, and that’s on me,” said UNC coach Jenny Levy. “I didn’t have the team ready to roll, and luckily for me, I’ve got fabulous student-athletes who found a way to win today. … Overall, just an unbelievable game. We scored 10 of the last 11 goals of the game with so many contributions from so many players, and a lot of effort and refusing to go away.  I’m incredibly proud and grateful that we get two more days with this crew.”

The win set a record for wins in a season for Carolina women’s lacrosse, but the then 21-0 Tar Heels still had one game left — against Boston College, the team that ended their 2021 season.

The Eagles upset the then-unbeaten Tar Heels in the 2021 national semifinals, and the two rivals played a back-and-forth 16-15 regular season game, with UNC going on a 6-0 midgame run and then holding off a 6-1 Boston College rally down the stretch to preserve its unbeaten season.

The Tar Heels took an early lead in the title game, with Geiersbach, the hero of Friday’s epic comeback, scoring the game’s first two goals. Boston College evened things up five minutes later, the first of five ties on the day.

North Carolina scored the last three goals of the first period to lead 5-2 and hit the half with a 7-5 lead.

Boston College scored the first three goals of the half, including two by NCAA goals leader Charlotte North, who had four on the day. The Heels scored in the final minute of the third to head into the season’s final quarter tied at eight. Boston College again jumped in front, but the Tar Heels scored four of the next five goals to hold on for the win. For the second straight game on championship weekend, Geiersbach scored the game-winner. She was named the Most Outstanding Player on the strength of her eight goals in the two games.

Geiersbach also scored two goals against Stony Brook to help the Heels reach championship weekend, recording three straight multigoal games after doing it just eight times prior to that this season.

Eight different Tar Heels scored in the game, and UNC was boosted by the strong play of goalkeeper Taylor Moreno, who had 11 saves.

“It was a total team effort,” Levy said in a television interview after the game.

Carolina became the first undefeated national champion since Maryland in 2017.