The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday December 7th

UNC women's lacrosse headed to NCAA title game

With a dominating 11-4 victory, the Tar Heels ended their playoff rut against the Wildcats.

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Perhaps freshman goalkeeper Megan Ward had a moment of deja vu when the final horn sounded in the No. 3 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team’s NCAA Tournament semifinal game against No. 2 Northwestern on Friday.

Just as she did when UNC (17-3) defeated the Wildcats 11-8 in February, Ward waited as her teammates cleared the bench and rushed to the opposite end of the field before swarming the goalkeeper in celebration.

Only this time, there was one difference — the implication of her team’s victory.

With UNC’s 11-4 final four defeat of Northwestern (19-3) , the defending national champion and winner of seven of the last eight NCAA titles, the Tar Heels earned their second trip to the championship in school history.

UNC also ended Northwestern’s previous streak of eight straight wins in Final Four games, beating the Wildcats for the first time in the semifinals after falling in 2010 and 2011.

“It was definitely in the back of my mind — how many national championships they’ve won and how successful they’ve been in the final stretch of their seasons,” junior attacker Abbey Friend said. “But I really think that today we came out strong and really held on to that for the entire game.”

From the opening draw, UNC dominated on both sides of the field. The team was especially led by a Tar Heel defense that presented many different schemes.

Coach Jenny Levy said the focus heading into Friday’s game was to not allow Northwestern to turn one-on-one opportunities into close looks at the net.

“We really wanted to try to come in, like any opponent we play, and make (Northwestern) uncomfortable — change things up and never let them get into a rhythm,” she said. “We felt a lot of their goals were coming from one-on-ones and from up top — a lot of eight meter shots. We just didn’t want to let them be on the eight meter (arc) and get back into the game by taking those shots.”

The Tar Heel defense was backed defensively by Ward in the cage, who Levy commended for being able to save three eight-meter Wildcat shots early in the game. Ward ended the contest with seven saves, and Northwestern’s four goals was the fewest the goalkeeper had surrendered to an opponent this postseason.

“After shooting on Megan all year and having her stuff all of my shots I have the confidence that if I get beat or give up a good shot she’s going to come up with a huge save no matter who’s shooting or where they’re shooting from,” senior midfielder Kara Cannizzaro said. “She’s only a freshman — I don’t know how she does it —but it’s amazing.”

UNC never trailed on Friday as five of its players tallied a goal. The Tar Heels were led by Cannizzaro, who scored all of her game-high four goals in the second half, and a three-goal performance from Friend. Attacker Aly Messinger and midfielders Jessica Griffin, Sammy Jo Tracy and Kelly Devlin each added one goal.

UNC will face ACC foe Maryland for the third time this season in the title game on Sunday, and Ward and the rest of Tar Heels will be looking celebrate at midfield one last time this season.

Cannizzaro said the only thing the Tar Heels want to do once more is set foot on the field.

At least for now that is.

“Tomorrow is going to be another day that we cherish,” she said, “because every day we get to play together we love.”

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