UNC women's lacrosse loses early lead, falls to Florida

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A Florida defender challenges UNC junior attack Abbey Friend for the ball during Saturday’s 5-3 result. North Carolina and Florida combined to commit 47 fouls during the game, and UNC’s six yellow cards earned the Tar Heels 12 minutes of man-down lacrosse.

Just eight minutes into Saturday’s season opener against No. 3 Florida, the No. 5 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team found itself with a 3-0 lead.

But the other 52 minutes belonged to Florida, which scored five unanswered goals to defeat the Tar Heels 5-3.

Initially, UNC’s speed was too much to handle for Florida as junior attacker Abbey Friend scored the game’s first two goals in a period spanning less than two minutes. Junior midfielder Taylor George added a goal of her own minutes later to extend UNC’s lead to 3-0.

But after that promising start, the Tar Heel offense stalled.

UNC’s three goals were the fewest it has scored since an 11-2 loss to Penn in 2009.

“I liked how we started the game,” coach Jenny Levy said. “I thought we came out with great intensity, did a lot of nice things, turned some really good opportunities into goals.

“But you can’t win a game scoring three goals.”

For Friend, the game was a tale of two halves on offense. She said that UNC allowed Florida to slow down the pace of the game after an up-tempo first half, which the Tar Heels controlled.

“I think we came out really excited, kind of on adrenaline for our first game of the season, so we were moving really fast through transition and got a few quick goals,” Friend said. “In the second half, we didn’t necessarily stick to our game plan by slowing the ball a little bit and letting them get into a rhythm defensively.”

With UNC leading 3-2, the tables began to turn on the Tar Heel defense after junior defender Sloane Serpe was given a yellow card 11 minutes into the second half and left the field for two minutes.

As Serpe watched from the sideline, Florida added two goals from senior attackers Ashley Bruns and Gabi Wiegand to take a 4-3 lead.

The sequence, which Serpe described as a defensive “collapse,” was the first time Florida converted a man-up opportunity into goals. Earlier in the game, the Tar Heels had managed to safely stall their way out of three separate penalty periods.

While the Tar Heels committed 31 fouls on Saturday, which changed the shape of the game by slowing it down to Florida’s liking, Levy said she was happy overall with the team’s effort defensively.

“We got caught on yellow cards that I thought were clean checks and clean plays,” Levy said. “It certainly was unfortunate, but I’m really proud of the team’s play defensively to hold (Florida) to five goals.”

Serpe, who was part of teams that defeated Florida in season openers the past two years, said starting the year 0-1 is disappointing, but not devastating.

The Gators had lost to UNC in each of the past three seasons. Florida’s women’s lacrosse program began in 2010.

“It was obviously a big game and a tough loss, but if anything we remember this and never want it to happen again,” Serpe said. “For us, it’s just to go out, not for revenge, but to better ourselves for the next game.

“This is only going to make us work that much harder.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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