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McCool and Ortega shine for UNC women’s lacrosse in OT win over No. 1 Maryland

Women's lacrosse celebration Maryland

Katie Hoeg (8) leaps into the arms of attacker Jamie Ortega (3), who scored the game-winning goal against Maryland on Feb. 24 in Kenan Stadium.

On Saturday, one of the top rivalries in college women’s lacrosse came down to a first-year and a senior.

First-year attacker Jamie Ortega found senior midfielder Marie McCool, who found the goal to lead the No. 8 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team to a 16-15 overtime win over No. 1 Maryland.

Heading into overtime, Ortega had already scored four goals of her own. It was time for McCool to earn her fourth as well. 

“Our offensive coordinator set up a play and we knew that they were always sliding to me very early, so I knew that Marie was going to be there,” Ortega said. “Her defender was looking right at me and as she drew, she walked into the eight and scored.”

It was the first time that UNC (3-1) has taken down Maryland since the 2016 NCAA Tournament championship game, where the Tar Heels earned a 13-7 win. The last five national championships for women's lacrosse have been won by either Maryland or UNC. This time, the win snapped a 56-game regular season winning streak for the Terrapins, which included a 13-10 victory over UNC last season.

“We love playing Maryland, and they like playing us,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “It’s always a competitive game.”

Ortega scored her first goal in the sixth minute of the game to put UNC ahead, 3-1. From there, Maryland went on a 6-0 run until an unassisted goal by McCool ended the streak. The next time that the Tar Heels would take the lead was in overtime.

With 52 seconds left to play in the second period, senior defender Naomi Lerner picked up a ground ball as Maryland committed a foul.

At the end of regulation, senior Ela Hazar scored off an assist by McCool to tie the game at 15, with just 22 seconds remaining, to send the game to overtime. It set up an Ortega and McCool finish. 

It was Ortega's first time experiencing the rivalry, and she spent the week counting down the minutes until the 1 p.m. start time Saturday afternoon.

"I was very excited throughout the week at practice because I just wished that we would have the game the next day," Ortega said. "The anticipation was killing me, but now that it's here, and afterwards, I can't stop smiling. It's a feeling that you can't really describe."

It’s no surprise that the game came down to that duo. Through the team’s first four games, McCool leads the team with 18 goals, while Ortega is right behind her with 13 goals.

In overtime, McCool’s defender left her right away, so she was wide open.

“I was so open that I paused when I caught it and I was telling myself to fake and shoot because I didn’t have my best shooting game,” McCool said. “Once I heard it hit the pipe I was like, 'No,' but then I saw it hit the net and I was like, 'Oh my gosh, thank God.'”

Midfielder Marie McCool (4) charges past Maryland defender Jen Giles (5) on Feb. 24 in Kenan Stadium.

With Saturday afternoon’s win, UNC's all-time home record against Maryland is now 9-7.

“We’re far from a finished product,” Levy said. “It does help us teach our kids more, have them buy in more, and just believe in themselves more. It’s a good win for us.”

McCool, who was one of two college players on the United States National Team that won a gold medal at the World Cup this summer, earned her first regular-season win over the Terrapins.

“This game proves how great we can be,” McCool said. “This is a great statement."


@DTHSports |

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