UNC women's lacrosse star tries to keep good things going in NCAA tourney

CorrespondentMay 17, 2013 

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    NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Quarterfinals

    Who: No. 3 North Carolina (15-3) vs. Virginia (11-9)

    When: 1 p.m., Saturday

    Where: Fetzer Field, Chapel Hill

    Tickets: Adults $8, students and seniors $5

    TV: GoHeels.com

    Who: Duke (14-5) vs. No. 1 Maryland (20-0)

    When: Noon, Saturday

    Where: Field Hockey & Lacrosse Complex, College Park, Md.

    TV: CBSSports.com

— It’s been a busy 10 days for North Carolina midfielder Kara Cannizzaro.

The senior co-captain from Cazenovia, N.Y., has picked up individual honors, a diploma and an NCAA tournament victory in quick order. Saturday she can keep the run going when the third-seeded Tar Heels host ACC rival Virginia in a NCAA quarterfinal at Fetzer Field at 1 p.m.

The Tar Heels (15-3), still in search of their first NCAA title, are one win from making their fourth NCAA semifinal trip in five years. The Cavaliers (11-9), much improved since an 8-7 regular-season loss to UNC over two months ago, are looking for another upset. They knocked off sixth-seeded Georgetown last Sunday 10-8, one of only two upsets of seeded teams. The other was Duke’s 10-5 rout of eighth-seeded Navy.

Cannizzaro’s leadership and scoring are big reasons the Tar Heels are one of eight teams still standing. She leads UNC with 50 goals and 67 points. To put those numbers into perspective, she ranks fifth at UNC in career goals (146), tied for sixth in single-season goals, and seventh in single-season points.

The postseason honors have followed. Last week she was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, lacrosse’s national player of the year prize. This week she made the coaches’ All-America first team.

“I’m completely honored and appreciative to get that,” Cannizzaro said. “But a lot of it has to do with my team and that we’re in the running for the national championship.”

Sandwiched between the honors was a 19-9 NCAA second-round victory over Loyola (Md.), a match that fell on Mother’s Day and Graduation Day at UNC. Cannizzaro happily skipped the cap-and-gown proceedings for the festivities at Fetzer Field.

“We cherish every game we play at Fetzer,” Cannizzaro said. And no wonder. The Tar Heels are 14-1 at home in NCAA tournament play. Cannizzaro did her part with a season-high five goals and two assists against the Greyhounds.

“I think a lot of it had to do with the defense Loyola was playing,” she explained. “It’s more of a dodge mentality the way they slide late. It worked well for me because I’m a big dodger.”

Win or lose, this will be Cannizzaro’s final home appearance.

“She’s been an amazing leader for our team,” UNC junior attack Abbey (cq) Friend said. “She has a great love for the game and an enthusiasm that she brings to practice every day.”

Both Friend and UNC coach Jenny Levy note Cannizzaro’s aggressive play as a key to her success.

“She’s one of four kids, and the other three are boys,” Levy said. “I think she had a choice at a young age to be submissive or fight for everything. She obviously made a choice, and it comes through on the field.”

So it’s no surprise that Cannizzaro is second on the team in ground balls and leads the Tar Heels in turnovers forced. And fouls committed. She doesn’t shy away from contact.

“I think it definitely comes from my family,” Cannizzaro said of her aggressive style. Her older brother Chris played college hockey. Another brother, Sean, is a sophomore attackman at Denver, and her youngest brother, Connor, will play lacrosse at Maryland next year.

All of those conflicting loyalties are a microcosm of the internecine nature of college lacrosse, where families and friends often find themselves on opposite sidelines.

“I think it brings an element of fun,” Cannizzaro said. “I love playing against people I know. Playing against people you know from high school in college brings a lot of intensity. It forms a bond you don’t see anywhere else.”

It also creates an interesting dilemma. On Sunday in Indianapolis, her brother’s Denver Pioneers will play the UNC men in the NCAA quarterfinals. Kara Cannizzaro hasn’t revealed who she will be rooting for in the game.

“It creates sibling rivalry, for sure,” she said.

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