UNC women’s lacrosse team reaches NCAA final

CorrespondentMay 24, 2013 

— The North Carolina women’s lacrosse team finally bested recent postseason nemesis Northwestern in May.

The Tar Heels’ reward is a chance to play in the national championship game for the second time in program history.

Kara Cannizzaro scored four goals and third-seeded North Carolina’s defense smothered the second-seeded Wildcats’ offense as the Tar Heels cruised to 11-4 rout in the NCAA tournament semifinals at Villanova Stadium.

sAbbey Friend added three goals for North Carolina (17-3), which will meet top-seeded Maryland in Sunday night’s title game. Brooke Griffin broke a tie with 2 minutes, 51 seconds remaining for an 11-10 Maryland win.

“It was an amazing experience,” goalie Megan Ward (seven saves) said. “I can’t believe we’re in the championship my freshman year. Our team played so well today.”

The Tar Heels proved vastly better than the sport’s most dominant program over the last decade.

Northwestern (19-3) won the past two national championships and seven of the past eight. Along the way, the Wildcats dealt the Tar Heels losses on the season’s final weekend three times since 2009 and eliminated North Carolina from the postseason four times since 2006.

This time, the Tar Heels emphatically shut down Northwestern. The Wildcats were held to their fewest goals in 43 all-time NCAA tournament games and mustered only one goal in the first half. North Carolina also prevented Northwestern from scoring on any of its nine free-position shots.

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels’ defense flummoxed the Wildcats’ top scorers. Erin Fitzgerald, Alyssa Leonard and Taylor Thornton entered averaging a combined 5.86 goals per game, but they combined for just one goal on eight shots against North Carolina.

“Within that one-on-one defense, we can do a whole bunch of different stuff, but we played more zone tonight than we ever have,” Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy said. “We probably played three or four different defenses in the course of the game. It was really effective.”

The Tar Heels scored the first two goals before Northwestern fired in its only score of the first half. Aly Messinger responded less than a minute later for North Carolina, and Friend scored her second goal with 2:45 left to secure a 4-1 halftime lead.

Such an advantage is often tenuous against the Wildcats, but Friend completed her ninth consecutive hat trick a few minutes into the second half to help North Carolina build a 7-1 edge. Northwestern hinted at a possible comeback with back-to-back goals, but never got closer.

Instead, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer finally got loose. After being face guarded for much of the first half, Cannizzaro zipped in four goals in less than five minutes to break things open.

From there, it was only a matter of time before North Carolina could finally celebrate a postseason triumph over Northwestern and its first title game appearance since 2009.

“Anytime you come into the NCAA and into any championship, anyone has the chance to upset a No. 1 or beat any team,” Friend said. “It’s definitely in the back of my mind how many national championships they’ve won and how successful they’ve been in the final stretch of their seasons, but I really think today we came out strong and we held onto that the entire game.”

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