CHAPEL HILL — Playing Northwestern for a spot in the national championship game is nothing new for the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team.
But with a win against the two-time defending national champion earlier this season – one of just two losses the Wildcats surrendered – the Tar Heels feel confident going into Friday’s matchup at 5 p.m. in Villanova, Pa. It is Carolina’s third Final Four appearance in four seasons.
“The biggest thing we took away from that win (against Northwestern) is that it proved to us just how good we are,” junior attacker Abbey Friend said. “It was a really big win for us to beat the defending national champion and gave us confidence.”
Two years ago, the Wildcats topped the Tar Heels en route to the national title. In 2009, Northwestern stopped UNC in the championship game.
Since 2002, when Northwestern restarted its women’s program after a 10-year hiatus, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad has won seven national championships. Since 2005, the only other team to win a title was Maryland in 2010.
The Wildcats are to women’s lacrosse what the Tar Heels are to women’s soccer.
“We have a lot of respect for them,” North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. “We played them way back in February and both teams have changed since then. We know that you have to play hard from the start and have poise … you also have to play a smart game, not just a physical game.”
For senior midfielder Kara Cannizzaro – one of 25 nominees for the Tewaaraton Award, given annually to the player of the year – getting the chance to play against the Wildcats is a humbling experience.
“Games like these are what you come to Carolina for,” Cannizzaro said. “I don’t ever get sick of seeing them because they are such an amazing team. They are always great games and hard-fought games. We’re more excited to compete with the best than worry about the outcome.”
Northwestern isn’t the only program the Tar Heels have modeled themselves after.
They share a campus with another powerhouse, a women’s soccer team that won its 22nd national championship in December.
Levy sees a lot of similarities between the two programs.
“They’re an inspiration to us,” she said of the women’s soccer team. “Their sudden-overtime win over Baylor just characterizes Carolina athletics.
“A lot of that has stemmed from Dean Smith and has been passed down to us. The hardhat, blue-collar mentality is so deep-seeded in the fabric of who we are across all our teams.”
Friend said she wasn’t sure what it would take to win national championships on a consistent basis like the Tar Heels’ soccer counterparts.
“I don’t know,” Friend said. “We’ll definitely see. We’ve worked really hard this past year and we know what we’re capable off … we just need to go into it really strong.”
Cannizzaro said the goal now is to match the soccer team’s title. And with just two wins needed to claim their first title, this one means a lot more for the senior.
“I really just want to win the national championship at this point,” she said. “This is my last go around, my last hoorah, so hopefully we can get there.
“We’re so proud of our soccer girls … we feel a little bit of competitiveness, but we’re more proud of them than anything.”