The North Carolina women’s lacrosse team advanced to its sixth Final Four in the last eight years with a 10-6 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday. The Tar Heels (18-2, 8-0 ACC) defeated the Irish (14-7, 4-3 ACC) for the second time this season in dominant fashion at Fetzer Field.
North Carolina is one of the deepest teams in the country — 17 different Tar Heels have scored a goal over the course of the season, and eight different Tar Heels have scored more than 14 goals.
The team’s depth has helped them absorb the injuries of two key attackers, Olivia Ferrucci and Sydney Holman. The team’s depth helped North Carolina to an ACC Championship win over Syracuse on May 1 And Saturday, the depth helped the Tar Heels win their 15th straight game and advance to the Final Four.
Seven different Tar Heels scored on Saturday. Marie McCool led the pack with three goals and highlighted the balance on offense as one of the team’s biggest strengths.
“You can pick someone to face guard but I don’t think that matters, because we have six other players who could just as well be face guarded,” she said. "Every single person is a threat on our field, and that’s what I think our huge advantage is going into the Final Four."
After the first half, the score was 6-4 in favor of the Tar Heels. All six goals came from different scorers.
Who stood out?
Megan Ward was sensational for the Tar Heels in the net. A week after being pulled after a slow start against Duke, Ward started again vs. Notre Dame and didn’t give Coach Jenny Levy any reasons to make a change. Ward made eight total saves and earned her seventh win of the season.
“My defense made it very easy for me, especially in the second half,” Ward said. “I barely got any shots. They turned them over 10 times, (Stephanie Lobb) was an animal out there, and I just think I was seeing the ball today.”
When was it decided?
With 53 seconds left in the first half, Kelly Devlin scored a goal to put the Tar Heels up 6-4. Maybe the game was still in question at half, but McCool started the second with two quick goals to earn a hat trick and to give the Tar Heels a firm grip on the game. It was the second straight week that the Tar Heels came out after the half and put a close game to bed.
That mentality of trying to close out and open halves on a strong note is something that Levy talks to her team about and tries to establish as a mindset.
“We are not looking at the clock like ‘Oh good, it’s halftime in a minute thirty,’” Levy said. “We are looking at the clock and saying ‘How many more goals can we score before the end of the half?’”
Thanks to goals from Devlin and McCool, the Tar Heels were able to focus on possession control in the second half to prevent Notre Dame from making any sort of a comeback.
Why does it matter?
This win sets up the women’s lacrosse program’s eighth trip to the Final Four. The team made it to the Final Four last year, but lost to Maryland in the championship game. The Tar Heels earned the opportunity to head back to Pennsylvania and get another shot at a coveted National Title.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to go back to Philly because we have unfinished business there on that field,” McCool said. “We are just really excited to go back and finish what we started last year.”
When do they play next?
North Carolina plays against Penn State in the Final Four on May 27 in Chester, Pennsylvania.
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