Freshman Sydney Holman’s father, brother and mother huddled around her as tears streamed down her face. She did not want to believe what had just happened.
What had just happened was surely the most agonizing loss of the attacker’s young career.
The No. 3 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team fell to No. 8 Duke 7-6 in overtime, marking UNC’s third loss in their last four games, dropping the Tar Heels to 12-3 overall with a 5-2 mark in ACC play .
The Blue Devils’ Karrin Maurer scored a diving goal that bounced through goalie Megan Ward’s legs and into the back of the net with 26 seconds left in overtime, and the Tar Heels were unable to generate anything but a last-second heave as the Kenan Stadium clock hit triple zeroes and Duke’s players and coaches stormed the field.
But before the madness of the final seconds, the Blue Devils employed a familiar tactic that has permeated all three of North Carolina’s losses on the season — slowing the game down.
Coach Jenny Levy was quick to mention Duke’s strategy of holding onto the ball as long as possible and her team’s sloppiness when it finally secured possession as the key reason for UNC’s defeat.
“Obviously, a slow tempo was Duke’s strategy,” she said. “And when that happens you can’t have more turnovers than the other team because we had to make every possession count. Unfortunately in the women’s lacrosse game, stalling is part of the game. But it does work obviously, and we have to play better. We can’t worry that another team’s stalling.”
The Tar Heels like to get up and down the field as quickly as possible, and that shows as they lead the nation with an average of 16.71 goals per game . But the Blue Devils neutralized UNC’s high-powered offense by holding onto the ball for up to five minutes at a time.
Despite the plodding nature of the contest, both teams had chances to win before Maurer’s goal ultimately decided the outcome.
With the score tied 6-6 at the end of regulation, Duke’s Sydney Peterson hit the post from point-blank range, giving UNC new life in overtime.
UNC looked destined to take the lead in overtime, which consists of two 3-minute periods, when Holman hit a wide-open Molly Hendrick streaking toward the goal.
But Hendrick uncharacteristically dropped the ball, allowing the Blue Devils to escape a sure goal from the freshman.
Ward said that although the loss stings now, there are plenty of lessons her team can take heading into its final regular season game of the year and ultimately into the postseason.
“We just need to have a mental toughness,” she said. “When teams are stalling on us, we just need to relax and know that we’re going to get the ball and put it in the back of the net.”
Leading-scorer Abbey Friend , while acknowledging the loss hurt at the time, was quick to put things into perspective for her team.
“It’s always better to be a Tar Heel than a Dookie.”