The last time the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team got a chance to see ACC foe Virginia play in April, the Cavaliers were battling against top-ranked Maryland in the ACC tournament semifinals at Fetzer Field, and nearly played their way into the conference title game.
Now, nearly a month later, the No. 3 Tar Heels will cross paths with Virginia in Chapel Hill yet again — this time meeting the Cavaliers on the field in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament.
Coach Jenny Levy said Saturday’s postseason matchup between two conference opponents is not uncommon.
“Facing an ACC opponent during the NCAAs is something all ACC teams have dealt with year-in and year-out,” she said. “But it’s the third round of the tournament, and I think regardless of who the opponent is, it’s going to be a very competitive game.”
After a first-round bye, UNC advanced to the quarterfinals for the ninth consecutive season with a 19-9 win against Loyola Sunday.
The Cavaliers had a tougher road to the quarterfinals but responded by picking up a first-round victory against Pennsylvania before upsetting No. 6 Georgetown in the second round.
Saturday’s game will mark Virginia’s second trip to Chapel Hill to face the Tar Heels this season. And while UNC slid past the Cavaliers 8-7 in the first meeting, Levy said both teams have come a long way since the matchup in March.
“Both teams are really different. Both teams have gone through an entire season since that game,” she said. “It’s now May and Virginia and (we) have worked hard and continued to develop our programs.
“From my perspective I think it’s a completely new (Virginia) team.”
Even on paper, the unseeded team UNC will face in the quarterfinals is different from the No. 8 Virginia team the Tar Heels played during the regular season.
But regardless of rankings, the Cavaliers have hit their peak at the right time heading into Saturday’s game.
Virginia has won four of its last five games with two victories during the span coming against top-ten opponents. A win against UNC would mark the fourth top-ten team it has beaten this season.
“Virginia is a great team that’s playing its best lacrosse right now,” Levy said. “Their offense puts a lot of different types of looks in that put a lot of pressure on the defense, so I think we need to play a really clean game defensively.”
For senior midfielder Kara Cannizzaro, whose five-goal, two-assist performance against Loyola was arguably her best as a Tar Heel, the approach UNC should take against its ACC rival is simple.
“I think we need to stick to our game plan and just play really disciplined but really aggressive lacrosse,” Cannizzaro said. “If we execute the small things then everything will fall into place.”
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