This was it.
After winning eight straight games, the No. 2 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team was reeling against No. 20 Louisville. The Tar Heels trailed 7-3 in the first half and looked sluggish. A nine-and-a-half hour bus ride the day before had sucked the life out of the defending national champions.
On top of that, junior Maggie Bill had left the game early with an injury. The streak was as good as gone. But the Tar Heels had a plan.
“After those first 10 to 20 minutes, we pulled ourselves together and realized that things needed to change,” junior Marie McCool said after UNC's 15-11 win Saturday. “I think from then on out, we were playing our game. Honestly, I thought we were playing some of the best lacrosse I’ve seen this whole season.”
McCool led the charge for North Carolina (12-1, 5-0 ACC), as she scored two goals in 38 seconds to pull within two of the Cardinals (10-5, 2-3 ACC). Minutes later, McCool operated the offense as the shot clock ticked under 10 seconds. She had to make a move.
With a quick cut, McCool made her way toward the goal and fired. She scored, capping off a first-half hat trick that brought the Tar Heels within a goal entering the break.
“Marie was a first-team All-American today,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “Everything she did on the field was top notch.”
Along with the stellar play of McCool — who notched a career-high seven goals Saturday — Levy said several adjustments sparked the comeback.
“We had Molly Hendrick go in and take some draws, which I thought changed the momentum of the game,” Levy said. “We also sharpened up our defense and made a couple of adjustments there.”
After a competitive first 30 minutes, the Tar Heels further cemented their status as one of the nation’s elite with an almost spotless second half.
After a Caroline Wakefield goal tied the contest at 7-7 and Louisville answered to take a one-goal lead, McCool once again took control of the game. With another three goals in succession, the midfielder had her team playing at a high level.
With goals from Ela Hazar, Hendrick and McCool, UNC capped off a 6-0 run and never ceded the lead. The Tar Heels eventually claimed the win, 15-11, and earned their ninth straight victory.
“We’re really excited about it, obviously, but we still have two more games left," McCool said. "So we can’t get ahead of ourselves and think that we’re unstoppable."
But on Saturday, the Tar Heels looked just that.
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