Sophomore attacker Sydney Holman has expanded her game for North Carolina this season, and that’s saying something considering that she was named the national freshman of the year by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association in 2014.
Penn State, which lost to the Tar Heels 11-8 last Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals at UNC’s Fetzer Field, found that out the hard way.
“Against Penn State, every time Sam McGee and I got the ball, they were screaming, ‘She’s feeding! She’s feeding!’ That made me want to go to the goal more,” Holman said.
You can’t blame the Nittany Lions for focusing on that aspect of Holman’s game. She set a UNC freshman record for assists with 27 in 2014, to go with 17 goals. This season she’s become a bigger threat to score, putting up 17 goals and a team-high 23 assists.
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“I try to be a threat all over the field,” Holman said. “I don’t try to limit myself as a feeder, although that is my strongest asset. I want to be more of a threat to the defense.”
Holman accomplished that against Penn State. She tallied four goals to match her season high and added two assists as the Tar Heels clinched a berth in the final four. Second-seeded UNC (17-3) will play third-seeded ACC rival Duke (16-4) at 5 p.m. Friday in PPL Park in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester, Pa. Top-seeded Maryland (19-1) takes on another ACC school, fourth-seeded Syracuse (16-7), at 7:30 p.m.
The winners meet at 8:30 p.m. Sunday for the national championship, which UNC claimed two years ago by beating Maryland in triple overtime.
Holman is a familiar name to UNC lacrosse fans. Sydney is the fifth member of her family with playing or coaching ties to the university.
Her brothers Matt and Marcus played for the Tar Heels. Matt was a goalie for two years (2011-12) after transferring from Maryland-Baltimore County, and Marcus graduated as the leading scorer in school history with 121 goals and 92 assists for 213 points (2010-13). UNC senior Joey Sankey eclipsed that career scoring mark this season with 225.
Sydney’s father Brian, an All-American goalie at Johns Hopkins, is an assistant coach of the UNC men’s team. And her mother Laurie, who played at Towson, is the director of operations for the UNC women’s team.
“It’s in my family’s blood,” Sydney said. “I was born with a lacrosse stick in my hand. I found the need to follow in my family’s footsteps. I played three sports, field hockey, basketball and lacrosse, but lacrosse has always been my favorite.”
And winning a national championship has always been her goal, something her brothers weren’t able to accomplish at UNC.
“It’s been my goal ever since I was a kid,” Sydney said. “That’s why you come here, to win a national championship. … But we have to get through Duke first.”
The Tar Heels and Blue Devils met during the regular season, with UNC claiming a 12-6 victory at Durham on April 17.
Despite the margin of victory, Holman doesn’t think the Tar Heels will have any trouble getting up for Duke again.
“The first game with Duke I remember we were so pumped up that week,” she recalled. “Every day we were coming out to practice very strong. We were very pumped to play Duke.”
Holman contributed a goal and two assists against the Blue Devils.
“Duke plays a similar defense to Penn State,” Holman noted. “They kind of sit back. … Against Duke a lot of our feeds were there, and not so much the one-on-one dodges.”
That strategy differed from the Tar Heels’ effort against Penn State, where they broke the game open in the second half by taking advantage of one-on-one isolation plays.
“Our offensive coach, Katrina Dowd, prepared us well for that,” Holman said. “We had a play in the second half that we set for that situation.” Both of Holman’s second-half goals came on dodges.
Scoring goals is nothing new for Holman, though. She led East Chapel Hill High to a state championship in 2013 and scored a state-record 416 goals in her four-year career.
Her banner freshman year ended early when she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee during the 2014 ACC tournament, slowing her progress this season.
“She came in injured and didn’t play in the fall (of 2014),” said UNC coach Jenny Levy, who described Holman as “impatient” with her lack of progress early in the season. But Holman has rounded into form now, according to her coach.
“It doesn’t surprise me that she’s playing well this spring,” Levy said. In fact, the coaching staff sometimes has to rein her in offensively.
“We have to tell her to stop being a scorer and move the ball,” Levy said, laughing. After Saturday’s victory, Levy said she had amended her concerns.
“I’m glad she had some selfishness in her.”