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UNC women's lacrosse continues two-goalie rotation in 23-4 win

Elise Hennessey and Taylor Moreno both played 30 minutes for UNC.

Marie McCool lax
UNC midfielder Marie McCool looks for an open teammate to pass to in the 2016 national championship in Talen Energy Stadium.

When tasked with replacing Caylee Waters, twice the National Goalie of the Year, head coach Jenny Levy didn’t limit herself to just one option.

Instead, the North Carolina women’s lacrosse head coach decided to implement a two-goalie system.

Sunday’s 23-4 win against Liberty marked the third time in as many games that Elise Hennessey and Taylor Moreno split duties in goal for seventh-ranked UNC (2-1).

Hennessey, a sophomore who served as the team’s backup in 2017, has started and played the first half in each of the Tar Heels’ three games. Each time, she’s been replaced at halftime by Moreno, a redshirt first-year who missed last season after tearing her left ACL.

Playing multiple goalies is a change from last season, one in which Waters started every game and played just over 1,139 minutes out of a possible 1,200. But the move isn’t unprecedented.

From 2014 to 2016, Waters regularly split time with Megan Ward, a partnership that helped produce a national title in 2016.

Similar to those days, Levy said there’s little separating her two goalies at the moment.

“With Elise and Taylor, same thing,” Levy said. “They’re both really good goalies and they both have different strengths, and I know that the people playing in front of them have confidence in both. There’s no reason to only play one.”

After allowing 15 goals in a season-opening double-overtime loss to James Madison and 10 more in a four-goal win against High Point, UNC only gave up four to Liberty. In the first half, Hennessey was responsible for one goal on three shots, while Moreno allowed three on five shots after halftime.

Although the sample size is small, Moreno’s save percentage (.467) is currently higher than Hennessey’s (.409), but Levy is committed to splitting time equally between the pair for now.

“This part of our season, we really want to be consistent for them so they can know how to prepare,” she said. “I think where it gets tricky with teams who play two goalies is if you get inconsistent.”

Both Hennessey and Moreno expressed their approval of the current setup and said they’re supportive of each other.

“It’s really awesome to go practice against someone who’s equally as good as you are and really work off one another,” said Hennessey, who’s already played more minutes than she did as a first-year. “She has a good day; I might have a bad day. She has a bad day; I might have a good day. So it’s honestly like the ultimate insurance policy.”

But what if Hennessey performs well in a first half and then has to make way for Moreno?
Would such a scenario upset her ? The answer is no.

“We’re all just trying to work toward the same goal,” Hennessey said. “So as long as whatever we’re doing collectively as a team is working toward that same idea, I suppose it doesn’t honestly matter to me if I end up playing first half, second half or the whole game.”

That’s the attitude Levy wants her goalies to have. The coach said a player unwilling to buy into a two-goalie system “probably shouldn’t be here.”

For Moreno, the two-goalie system has allowed her ease into the college game after recovering from her injury. She’s embraced the second-half role and said it helps her get a feel for the action before entering games.

“I get to kind of survey the first half and figure out out what our defense is doing right and what kind of stuff we can try to focus on in the second half,” she said. “I think it’s been working to my advantage a lot.”

Senior midfielder Marie McCool, who tied her career high with seven goals against Liberty, commended Hennessey and Moreno on their support of each other and said both have done a good job of filling Waters’ role.

"They definitely have different styles, you know,” McCool said. “But it doesn’t matter when the ball’s being saved. So they have different styles, but we can count on both of them to do their job.”

Down the road, Levy said one goalie might see extended playing time within a particular game if one of them is “having a day,” which was often the case when Waters and Ward played together.

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“We have such a competitive schedule,” Levy said. “We’ll have all sorts of scenarios come up throughout the season that we’ll work through as a team.”

If that’s the case, there will be much to learn when UNC hosts No. 1 Maryland on Saturday.

@brennan_doherty

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com