The North Carolina women’s lacrosse team is heading into the 2018 season following a shocking loss to unseeded Navy in last year’s NCAA quarterfinals. Redemption is exactly what the program is hoping for as it prepares to face No. 15 James Madison this Saturday.
The Tar Heels are coming off a strong 2017 season that ended in disappointment. They finished 17-3 overall and earned the ACC Tournament title. However, the team ultimately fell to Navy at home, 16-14, in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament as the No. 2 overall seed. This season, the program will be without last year's key seniors — Molly Hendrick, Sydney Holman, Carly Reed and Sammy Jo Tracy — who combined for 175 goals, as well as star goalie Caylee Waters.
Heading into the 2018 season, UNC is ranked No. 1 in the ACC preseason coaches’ poll and No. 3 in the nation in the overall coaches poll. The Tar Heels are hoping to bring back the 2016 national championship feeling.
Seniors Marie McCool, Ela Hazar and Maggie Bill are returning as key assets to the team. All three were given spots on Inside Lacrosse’s preseason All-America teams.
McCool, a team captain, was one of two college students on the 2017 U.S. Lacrosse World Cup team that won gold in England. She was also a Tewaaraton finalist last year, named an IWLCA first-team all American, the ACC Scholar-Athlete of the year and the ACC Midfielder of the Year. McCool had an impressive 50 goals and 19 assists last season, including six goals against JMU in the season opener, a performance she would like to repeat this weekend.
Hazar is a strong playmaker, evidenced by her 74 career assists and a school-record 40 last season. She was added to the watch list for the 2017 Tewaaraton Award. She also earned 32 goals last season. Her strong play earned her a spot as a third-team 2017 IWLCA All-American.
Bill returns after competing in the tryout group as a midfielder for the U.S. Women’s Senior Lacrosse Team. Last year, she was a third-team All-American and on the Tewaaraton watch list before she suffered a lower leg injury in April that left her out for the rest of the season. She finished with 19 goals and 11 assists. With her back and healthy, the team can expect to be even stronger.
In addition to being named All-Americans, McCool, Hazar and Bill all earned spots on the 2018 preseason All-ACC team. Sophomore Erin Kelly, a skilled defender who was the No. 13 incoming first-year in 2016, according to Inside Lacrosse, also made the preseason team. She was the only first-year to start in every game last season.
No. 1 in the nation.
That’s what UNC’s incoming class is ranked, per Inside Lacrosse. That ranking could boost the entire team as it pushes to finish the season No. 1 in the country. The team will have three out of the top 15 incoming recruits in the country under its belt. There are nine total incoming first-years, including two midfielders, one defender, three midfielders/defenders and three attackers.
Players to keep an eye on include Jamie Ortega, a top-ranked attacker and the No. 2 incoming recruit in the country. Ortega had a whopping 588 points in her high school career, the most in New York high school history, and scored three goals in the 2017 Under Armour All-American game.
Another big name is Ally Mastroianni, who was the Inside Lacrosse 2017 National High School Player of the Year and is ranked the No. 3 incoming first-year. She also had three goals in the Under Armour All-American game and 561 career points.
Scottie Rose Growney is also a strong addition, coming in as the No. 15 player in the nation. Growney scored twice in the 2017 Under Armour All-America Game. She had 168 career goals and 79 assists, as well as 247 draw controls, 53 ground balls and 73 forced turnovers.
Also joining the team are Taylor McDaniels, Kayla Wood and Kate Kotowski. All three are ranked as top 50 recruits.
The Tar Heels face a rigorous 2018 schedule. They play seven of the top 20 teams, including four of the top 10. Those opponents include No. 5 Florida, No. 6 Boston College, No. 7 Syracuse, No. 9 Northwestern, No. 13 Virginia, No. 15 Notre Dame and No. 19 Duke.
The Tar Heels will play seven home games in an unusual environment inside Kenan Memorial Stadium while Fetzer Field undergoes renovations, and eight games on the road.