While most seniors were busy with graduation festivities Sunday, Kara Cannizzaro and the No. 3 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team were busy fighting to continue in the NCAA playoffs in a match against Loyola.
On a day when Cannizzaro should have been in a cap and gown, she was wearing goggles and cleats while setting career-highs and leading her team to a 19-9 win.
And according to Cannizzaro, that’s what she prefers.
“It was really fun to look up in the stands and see your friends in graduation gowns,” Cannizzaro said but conceded, “I’d rather be playing an NCAA game than going to graduation any day.”
With five goals on five shots, Cannizzaro was not only the most efficient player on the field, but the senior captain also tied a career-high in goals. By adding two assists to that mark, she set a career-high in points, as well.
While Cannizzaro was surprised by her own efficiency, she was quick to attribute her success to both practice and her teammates.
“I think it’s just something we work on as a team a lot,” Cannizzaro said, regarding her ability to capitalize on her opportunities. “A lot of it has to do with my teammates holding space and holding the slide for me, allowing me to get my hands free and finish.”
With four goals and two assists of her own, junior Abbey Friend also tied her career-high with six points.
But for the Tar Heels, success wasn’t due to individual efforts — it was all about the team effort.
At halftime, UNC held only a 7-5 lead, despite dominating the clearing game and getting a strong performance in cage by freshman Megan Ward with six saves.
“It was the type of game I expected from a good feisty young Loyola team,” coach Jenny Levy said. “They play a certain style that I thought we had to adjust to in the first half.”
But Levy said she trusted her team to make the necessary adjustments, and once the second half began, continued domination in the clearing and riding games gave the Tar Heels the edge they needed offensively.
By preventing successful clears on seven of Loyola’s 19 clear attempts, the Tar Heels were able to keep the ball out of the hands of the Greyhound offense and keep pressure on their defense.
“I don’t worry,” Levy said. “I think my guys are smart enough and talented enough to work through some of the issues on the field.”
For the Tar Heels to move forward in the NCAA playoffs, that trust will prove to be critical.
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