CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Jenny Levy looked around at her women's lacrosse program in 2007 and declared "something has to change."
That was at the end of the season, and the Tar Heels had fallen in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season, losing to her alma mater Virginia in heartbreaking fashion.
"I thought we were better than that," said Levy, whose team would lose in the tournament's quarterfinals again in 2008 before the program turned around.
Today, the third-seeded Heels host sixth-seeded Loyola (Md.) at Fetzer Field in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. Last week, they toppled the Cavaliers 15-7 and looked like the No. 3-ranked team in the nation.
Defensively the Heels are tenacious - holding teams to 8.05 goals per game - and offensively spread the ball to quick-strike attackers.
"The program's definitely changed," said senior All-American Corey Donohoe, who has factored in the program's rise since her freshman season.
The Heels make their 13th appearance in 16 varsity seasons. They are seeking their sixth overall semifinal berth and third consecutive.
In 2009, the Heels reached the national championship game, falling to Northwestern in the finals.
Last season, the Heels were again undone by the Wildcats, though maintained the progression of the program.
When Levy was hired in 1994 the team experienced quick success. Still, by 2007 she said she had not created the program culture that produces consistent winners.
"We just tried to do it better," said Levy, who turned to the examples of the North Carolina's men's basketball and women's soccer teams.
Levy spent time watching coach Roy Williams run practices and even incorporated the men's basketball team's practice schedule. She said all of the strategies in basketball correlate to the lacrosse field.
Levy also picked the brain of women's soccer coach Anson Dorrance.
"I like their culture in that it's intense, it's demanding but there's great chemistry," Levy said. "The kids on the team feel like they can be individuals. There's no form they have to take. They have a lot of fun, yet they get on the field and take care of business."