CHAPEL HILL For four years, North Carolina women’s lacrosse team owned Virginia in the NCAA tournament.
The teams had met three times, the Tar Heels winning each game.
But in Saturday’s quarterfinal matchup, the Cavaliers (12-8) came back and beat the defending NCAA champion Tar Heels 10-9, leaving fans and players in disbelief.
“I think Carolina is a fantastic team,” Virginia head coach Julie Meyers said. “They made us really work hard for it. But I feel like we got the momentum at just the right time in the game and we were able to see it through.
“You couldn’t script it any better.”
North Carolina senior Taylor George scored a goal in the beginning of the second half to put the Tar Heels up 8-4.
After losing over and over in the tournament to the Tar Heels (15-15), it would have been natural for the Cavaliers to feel defeated.
But they didn’t.
After UNC redshirt freshman Carly Davis missed a shot with 17:24 remaining in the game, the Cavaliers dominated on draw controls, holding the Tar Heels without a possession for more than 12 minutes.
In the process of slowing the game down, the Cavaliers scored six straight goals to make it 10-8.
“Our rules allow you to stall the ball,” said North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy. “And last year, the rules committee didn’t have the courage to change that rule. So we’re still sitting in games where teams are stalling the ball. If we don’t have the ball, we can’t score.”
“It’s part of the game, unfortunately,” she added. “I don’t think it’s fun for you all to watch and it’s certainly not fun for spectators.”
The Tar Heels got out to a fast start in the first half. Freshman Maggie Bill scored the first goal just 44 seconds into the game.
The Cavaliers scored the second goal but the Tar Heels put two more on the board to lead 3-1.
That’s when the Cavaliers started to slow the game down.
Meyers said that was key but stopped short of saying the strategy was to play keep-away.
“We were trying to manipulate the defense, trying to get a good look, trying to get our hands free, but their defenders make that hard to do,” Meyers said. “I guess it may look like keep-away but I would say it was super hard work getting banged around and pounded and checked.”
In the first half, the Cavaliers kept the game close despite the Tar Heels getting easy shots for a 7-4 lead at the half.
The Tar Heels made it interesting at the end, scoring with 4:17 remaining. But the Cavaliers grabbed another draw control and held the ball again.
When Cavaliers goalie Liz Colgan picked up a loose ball, she ran around the cage with the ball in the net of her stick looking for teammates. UNC senior Abbey Friend, who recorded a hat trick, managed to knock the ball out. With the Tar Heels down by one, she scooped the ball and passed it to George, who was about 15 feet in front of the open net. With 2:16 left, George missed the shot wide.
From there the Cavaliers held on, advancing to the Final Four.
Friend, who is second in school history in points (250), was noticeably distraught after the game.
“Just four years is done,” she said. “Too quick, obviously, and this isn’t the situation that we want to end with. But I think the seniors did a really good job all four years and wouldn’t have wanted to graduate with a different class. I think it was really nice to have a group of 37 girls that you love to death.”
Alexander: 919-932-2008; Twitter: @jonmalexander1
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