With 66 seconds left in a one-score NCAA Tournament game, a senior with 177 saves on the year and two National Goalie of the Year awards to her name did the worst thing a keeper could do.
Caylee Waters left North Carolina’s goal completely unguarded.
Because of that, the box score from UNC’s 16-14 loss to Navy will always be a little inaccurate. The last goal scored on Waters in her illustrious UNC career was an uncontested practice shot.
And that deadly goalie sin she committed — leaving her post? It was out of necessity.
16 minutes ago, few thought Waters would be in this situation. The unranked Midshipmen had kept it close with No. 2 overall seed North Carolina at halftime, leading 8-7. But the defending champions responded in convincing fashion.
Senior Sammy Jo Tracy scored three goals in just over four minutes. That, combined with goals by Ela Hazar and Marie McCool, sent UNC on a 5-0 run. The upset alert was gone — or so North Carolina thought.
“The game of women’s lacrosse is weird,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “You just have to play the game that’s in front of you — and that’s a mixed bag every single time you walk out on the field.”
For the rest of the game, the Midshipmen outworked the Tar Heels. They gradually tied the game and then took a 15-14 lead. They forced seven second-half turnovers. They played like an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal was nothing new to them, even though Saturday was their first in school history.
The last six minutes of the game were frantic — fouls, yellow cards, increasingly hasty shot attempts by UNC. Waters saved a point-blank shot that would have ended the game with 1:40 left and promptly overshot Maggie Auslander on a clear attempt that could have started a game-tying offensive possession.
Navy gained control of the ball, advanced it downfield and called a timeout to strategize. The Midshipmen could run out the final 1:06 and call it a game. North Carolina needed a miracle — a turnover and a quick goal against Ingrid Boyum, who was playing lights-out.
In the final 66 seconds of her college lacrosse career, Waters abandoned the area she was always told to protect. She, along with the rest of her team, was now fighting for her playoff life. It was all hands on deck.
They sprinted toward the ball as Navy calmly drained time. It was an intentional move. The Midshipmen were confident in their ability to keep possession, even though Waters was nowhere near the goal, daring them to take a shot.
Finally, Navy’s Molly O’Sullivan made a cut and hurled the ball into the back of the net from just a few feet away. She scored Navy’s 16th goal of the game with 16 seconds left.
Fetzer Field’s scoreboard displayed the final score in large digital numbers. The underdogs were victorious. They led in the hustle categories, controlling 23 ground balls to UNC’s 15 and winning three more draw controls.
Later this week, they’ll be finalizing logistics for their trip to the Final Four in Foxborough, Mass. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels will miss out on what would have been their seventh NCAA semifinal appearance in nine years.
“You can have belief, do everything in your power and take care of all your details and sometimes it doesn't work out the way you want it to,” Levy said. “And that's life.”
North Carolina didn't expect a blowout win or play terribly. In a game against one of the best teams in the country, Navy was just better.
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