VILLANOVA, Pa. — The No. 3 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team ended its 2013 season in a dream-like blur as one 17-second sequence led the Tar Heels to claim the school’s first-ever NCAA title with a 13-12 victory against top-ranked Maryland (22-1).
Much of the season, the Tar Heels (18-3) have relied on veteran leadership from the likes of NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Kara Cannizzaro and junior veteran Abbey Friend. But in the waning moments of yet another overtime period in the championship game, two freshmen emerged to help UNC claim the NCAA crown.
In what would ultimately be the final seconds of a nearly 73-minute, triple overtime game — the longest in NCAA women’s lacrosse championship history — the play that the Tar Heels are now having trouble remembering but will likely never forget all began with a save from freshman goalkeeper Megan Ward.
The save came on a shot from Maryland sophomore midfielder Brooke Griffin, who attempted to place it over the 5-foot-2 Ward. But the goalkeeper tipped it up and trapped the ball with her stick on the turf before it could roll into the goal.
“I had to make the save because it was sudden death and there was a lot of pressure,” Ward said. “But I knew if I made it the attack would go down and score right afterwards.”
Ward cleared the ball to a sprinting Brittney Coppa, and the junior midfielder then passed it to freshman midfielder Sammy Jo Tracy.
For Tracy, it was just a typical swing of her stick — similar to how she does in practice or with her dad, she said — that sealed a victory for UNC in the sudden-death overtime period.
“I don’t really remember that much of it to tell you the truth. I just know that the ball ended up in my stick — I couldn’t honestly tell you how,” Coppa said. “Meg made a great save. I got the ball and was just like ‘go’.
“I just went, knew it felt right and Sammy Jo was open. I saw her shot, then (the ball) hit the back of the net, and I threw my stick (in celebration).”
Coach Jenny Levy said after the first few three-minute overtime periods, she stopped doing much coaching and trusted her players to do what they needed to get the victory.
Her trust paid off as Ward tallied three saves in the overtime periods to keep the Tar Heels in the hunt for a national title. And while Ward fended off the Terrapins’ shot attempts, Coppa and the rest of UNC’s offensive unit used a relentless attack at Maryland’s cage to wear down their opponent.
And ultimately, the final sequence of the national title game was controlled by two of the team’s youngest players and a junior veteran in Coppa — all of whom will return to the team next season.
But for now, Tracy isn’t focused on the three more years of lacrosse she has ahead of her at UNC. The freshman is rather still trying to make sense of her game-winning shot.
“A dream — it literally feels all like a dream,” she said. “To see that ball go in the back of the net was something I’ve dreamed about ever since my dad put a stick in my hand.”
- With the victory, UNC broke the school record, set in 2002 and tied in 2010, for most wins in a season.
- Senior midfielder Kara Cannizzaro, the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player and Tewaaraton Award finalist, broke the program record for points in a season with 83 on Sunday. She scored four goals and dished out two assists against Maryland.
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