North Carolina coach Jenny Levy and her Tar Heels women's lacrosse team will face Northwestern tonight in the NCAA championship semifinals, marking the third straight year the two squads have met in their sport's final four or title game.
But to hear Levy describe it, facing a familiar foe has not increased the stakes or her team's motivation.
"We're excited that we're still playing," Levy said. "We can only look at our next opponent, which is Northwestern, and that's the ticket we drew. We're excited about that. I think we'd be excited about any opponent and the opportunity to see how great we'll be on the big stage."
The second-seeded Wildcats (19-2) took down the third-seeded Tar Heels (15-5) the last two postseasons, winning 15-10 in the national semifinal round last year and 21-7 in the 2009 NCAA title game. Despite her team's winless mark against Northwestern in the NCAA tournament, Levy believes every year is a new start.
"Each year, my team is different. Each year their team is different," she said. "We kind of look at just this year."
Northwestern extended its win streak over UNC in an early trip to Chapel Hill this season. The Wildcats claimed a 7-6 overtime decision in a Feb. 25 game that the Tar Heels led 5-3 in the second half. Northwestern standout Shannon Smith scored back-to-back goals to tie the score and force overtime.
Northwestern's greatest weapon, Smith has 78 goals this season on 150 shots, 55 more shots than top Tar Heels scorer Corey Donohoe has taken.
"She's involved with every play on the field," Levy said of Smith. "She wants to score, and they put her in a position to score. Her team relies on her to score."
While UNC's defense will have its hands full with Smith, Northwestern will have to find an answer for Donohoe. The senior All-American leads UNC with 51 goals, but she was held scoreless in the February meeting.