When North Carolina and Duke faceoff, nail-biting finishes are as commonplace as it gets in college sports. The North Carolina women’s lacrosse team must have missed the memo in its NCAA semifinal game Saturday.
The Tar Heels dominated throughout, much like they had done in their regular season game against Duke. The Tar Heels hit the ground running in all three phases of the game.
Against a Blue Devil team that held Princeton to just three points in the quarterfinals, UNC piled it on in a 16-7 victory.
The win sends the Tar Heels to the national championship game, where they will face a tough Maryland team.
For this Tar Heel squad, the achievement is a culmination of the work they have put forth this year — and it has been well worth the wait.
“It’s really exciting to be back,” Aly Messinger said. “This is our goal every year, so I’m really happy for our team.”
It didn’t take long for the Tar Heels to get on the board, as Messinger started off the scoring less than a minute into the game. But the junior attacker didn’t stop there, contributing a game-high five points to her team’s winning effort.
What was a close 4-4 game quickly turned as the Tar Heels found their stride offensively. The Tar Heels finished the half with three unanswered goals, putting them up for good.
“On the offensive end, (our) unit showed a complete team game and showed how much fun it can be,” Coach Jenny Levy said.
The highlight of the game was a goal from Brittney Coppa with seven seconds left in the first half. It was Coppa’s first goal since she tore her ACL for the second time on April 11.
“It has been a long journey for me the past two years, but I think doing it once made me more prepared for the second time it happened.”
Coppa has had a long road back, but she has stayed positive throughout her struggle.
“I know I’m hurt, but I don’t look at it as though I’m hurt,” Coppa said. “I just look at it as a new barrier to overcome.”
While the offense shined against Duke, it was the effort defensively that impressed both coaches and players.
“Our defense is the anchor of our team,” Messinger said. “Without their hard work and stops, we can’t get the ball as an offense.”
“They did a great job, and we thank them for that.”
The defense held Duke to just three goals after the game had been tied 4-4, allowing UNC to break open the game.
The Tar Heels held Duke scoreless for an 18 minute span in the second half.
The Tar Heel defense finds so much success in large part due to the experience on the back line. The four UNC defenders that started against Duke all played in UNC’s 2013 championship run.
As they look back on that miraculous run, the Tar Heels are making sure their eyes rest firmly on the goal this year: another championship.
“2013 was great,” Coppa said. “But we are focused on 2015 right now.”
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