A couple impressive performances made all the difference.
The second seeded North Carolina women’s lacrosse faced a tough squad in Northwestern on Saturday. Led by Selena Lasota, who'd scored 17 goals in the previous two games, the team's offense could get going in a hurry. But even Lasota netting five more goals, tying an NCAA tournament record 22 goals, was not enough.
In a back and forth battle, the Tar Heels advanced with a 19-14 win to their third final four in four years and seventh in the last 10 years. With redshirt first-year Taylor Moreno in goal and a balanced offensive attack, the Wildcats couldn't keep up.
Eight Tar Heels scored goals, including six multiple scoring performances. Five players also recorded assists, four of which had multiple assists on the day.
“It’s a true team,” head coach Jenny Levy said, “and so many different kids are contributing (on offense).”
One of the most significant goals of the game came from Katie Hoeg less than three minutes into the game. Putting the team up 2-1 early, Hoeg made program history, breaking the single-season point record previously held by Kara Cannizaro (2013) and Molly Hendrick (2017) at 83. Her only goal of the day, Hoeg later poured on three assists.
“(Hoeg) was someone who came off the bench last year, didn’t get a ton of time . . .” senior Marie McCool said. “She learns so quickly and she’s always listening to the seniors and other leaders on the team, and she’s selfless.”
Hoeg has become known to her teammates as a playmaker who knows when to make the right pass, and arrives early every practice ready to go. But against the Wildcats, her goal didn't decide the game. In fact, from then on, the two teams were hardly separated by more than a few goals until North Carolina pulled away with two three-goal streaks in the second half.
In the end, it was the goalie play that made all the difference.
With a nearly identical number of shots taken, Northwestern held a 31-24 shots on goal advantage in the game. However, the Wildcats only had five saves the entire game and failed to capitalize on the majority of their shots. Midway through the first half, the team subbed out its starting goalie, but even that didn't help. The team didn't have what the Tar Heels did on their roster.
On the other end of the field, Moreno held it all together. She tied a career-high 17 saves in the game, stopping multiple one-on-one opportunities that could have swayed the game. She only let in three of nine free-position shots in the contest and cleared the ball out quickly to jumpstart the offense.
Many of her early saves came when the Tar Heels led by two goals or less. In the second half when UNC went on scoring runs to close it out, she remained solid to keep the game from drawing close again.
“She’s a margin for us for sure,” Levy joked, smiling at her starting goalie. “No pressure.”
Because of the work in goal by Moreno, the five goals from Jamie Ortega, trio of goals from McCool and Ela Hazar, and pair of goals from Kara Klages, Maggie Bill and Olivia Ferrucci became even more valuable to the win.
Moreno now has 28 saves in the NCAA tournament and has been crucial the last several games. She has had four straight double-digit save games and was a huge part of the team reaching the final four, something it has been working towards all season.
“We had nine months to get where we wanted to be," senior Naomi Lerner said, "and that’s Memorial Day weekend in Stony Brook.”
North Carolina will face James Madison next Friday, a team it lost to 15-14 in double overtime in the season opener. If the Tar Heels hope for a better outcome this time around, they'll need need Moreno once again to make the difference — just like she did on Saturday.