Freshman Caylee Waters sees first game action for UNC women's lacrosse

Freshman goalie Caylee Waters watches Saturday’s match between the North Carolina and Boston University women’s lacrosse teams. She’s huddled with her teammates to guard against the icy breeze blowing from the snow drifts circling the field when a coach taps her on the shoulder.

“Warm up. You’re going in after halftime.”

Waters stays on the field at halftime with a coach, practicing defending shots in goal. This game — in which UNC won 18-8 — will be her first in action as a Tar Heel.

As the second half progresses, Waters struggles a bit. She allows four goals without a save, but she shows a glimpse of why she was named the best player in Connecticut and highly sought after as a recruit.

Midway through the half, she finds herself with the ball away from the goal in the left corner of the field trapped by several opposing players. But she finds an opening through the crowd of red jerseys to sling the ball to a waiting Tar Heel in the middle of the field. The pass to the middle carries more risk, but Waters trusts her teammate to make the play. It fits her identity as a player — the former midfielder likes to be aggressive and take risks.

“I don’t just play inside my crease,” Waters said after the game. “I like to be versatile and do stuff outside, which sometimes is dangerous.”

Waters added that a strong mindset is an essential trait as a goalie, both to move on from mistakes and to not only keep calm, but thrive in pressure-filled situations.

“(It was) a little nerve-wracking going in … put that aside, and it was fun,” Waters said. “I try to stay calm and not let things bother me, like if I let in a goal.”

Coming from a family of athletes, Waters is well equipped to deal with the pressure. Both of her parents were divers at Clemson and Virginia Tech, and her uncle dove at UNC in the late 1970s . Waters herself dove her freshman year in high school, but despite her lineage and last name, she ended up playing lacrosse.

“There’s something special about it,” Waters said. “I just love it so much. I like the team and how in order to be successful … you have to work together as a whole.”

Waters is behind sophomore Megan Ward on the depth chart, but coach Jenny Levy likes to use two goalies in a rotation. She said it puts pressure on the opponent to prepare for two different goalies with two different styles. It’s a mid-game change-up that doesn’t cost the team on defense.

“With two really good goalies, we can take a lot more risks, and it really builds confidence within our team,” Levy said.

Ward split time last season with graduate Lauren Maksym and started the final seven games of the season , including the national title game against Maryland. With Ward becoming the starter, Waters will fill her old rotation role.

“(Waters) and Meg are a really great 1-2 tandem,” Levy said. “It’s really hard to find fault with either.”

Despite the somewhat rocky debut for Waters, Levy was effusive in her support for her youngest goalie. She adamantly stated that she just wants Waters to be herself and that she was perfectly happy with having two capable goalies on the roster.

“It’s a nice problem to have.”

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