With 17:46 left in the first half of Sunday's second-round NCAA Tournament game, Virginia turned the ball over.
North Carolina's Lauren Martin, a first-year defender, stepped out of bounds while cradling the it. Teammate Sammy Jo Tracy took it on the change of position.
She then had a choice: try to send a difficult pass to Carly Reed, streaking down the middle of the field with no one ahead of her, or just pull back and play it safe.
“Sammy and I, we were roommates, we live together, and she’s a fifth-year, I’m a senior,” Reed said. “We are just trying to go out there and have fun, play together. You never know this time of year which game is your last, so just having fun and moving the ball, she knew to hit me back. She knew I wanted the shot.”
Tracy sent the pass, Reed easily finished the goal and the North Carolina women's lacrosse team (17-2, 6-1 ACC) scored 16 seconds after the turnover to go up 4-1.
The lead kept growing and finished with UNC winning 23-12. North Carolina advanced to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals thanks to a torrent of goals and a dazzling display of offensive excellence.
The Tar Heels set a season high for goals, topping the 21 they scored against Virginia in the regular season in Chapel Hill. The 23 goals are also the most in any of their 46 NCAA Tournament games, beating the previous record of 22 set against UMBC in 2002. The Tar Heels will now face off against Navy next Saturday with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
It’s not supposed to be this easy. Any of it. Virginia is the 13th ranked team in the nation, coming into the game with a record of 12-8 (4-3 in ACC play). North Carolina hadn’t played since April, while Virginia was fresh off a two-goal win over Elon on Friday. It’s the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but North Carolina is so good at women’s lacrosse all of it looked easy.
On four separate occasions, North Carolina scored a goal, won the faceoff and scored less than 23 seconds later. The first came when Marie McCool scored with 16:36 left in the first half and Reed scored 18 seconds later.
The next three instances, in the 13th and 6th minutes of the first half and in the 26th minute of the second, of back-to-back goals were punctuated with McCool goals. Again, it’s really hard to score that quickly. But the Tar Heels did it four times.
“We weren’t afraid to push the fast break,” McCool said. “We talk about it all the time, ‘Don’t be afraid to push it, don’t be afraid,’ and we were getting great looks through it. The spacing was awesome, and I think that we did a great of that — just pushing it and not being afraid to just go.”
McCool, a Tewaaraton Award finalist, scored five times on the day and showed off her superior fitness and skill without seemingly breaking a sweat.
Ela Hazar had an assist, setting the UNC single-season assist mark with 37. Reed also put her stamp on the history books, setting a new career-high with six goals.
“I thought from front to back and back to front, the team played very well,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “We gave up some things we’ll improve on, but overall, what a great day.”
A great day, for a great team, in circumstances that any other team would struggle through. But that’s just how it goes with the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team.
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