Jamie Ortega had been waiting on this game for a long time.
On Saturday afternoon, the No. 2 North Carolina women's lacrosse team avenged its pair of losses from last season, routing No. 4 James Madison, 18-7, in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
But for Ortega, the result starkly contrasted from memories past.
Coming into UNC's season opener, the sophomore remembered that James Madison — on the way to notching its first national championship in program history — handed UNC its season-opening and season-ending losses of the 2018 season.
Ortega remembered her team’s struggle against JMU’s dynamic defense — one that switched from zone, to man-to-man, to a hybrid of the two in both of their matchups.
But mostly, she said, Ortega remembered not being ready to say goodbye to the seniors of last year’s team after the Tar Heels’ loss in the NCAA semifinals.
“We’re fortunate enough that (JMU is) our first game of the season,” Ortega recalls her team saying after its last loss of 2018. “We don’t have to wait until playoffs.”
The win marks the largest margin of victory in the history of the UNC-JMU series. The Tar Heels have opened their seasons against The Dukes for the past five years.
Head coach Jenny Levy said her program doesn’t “shy away from big games."
“Going into the first game of any season, you’re curious at some point to how you’re going to respond to being challenged on the field,” Levy said. “You don’t really know who you are until you’re challenged and see how you respond to things.”
In Saturday’s contest, North Carolina put together a complete performance, taking 10 more shots on goal than JMU and controlling 22 of 27 draws. Conversely, in the 2018 national semifinal, UNC was edged out in draw controls and shots on goal.
“We’re competitors and regardless of who ends your season, if it doesn’t end on a win, you’re still bitter about it,” Levy said. “It doesn’t matter who we lost to, but it did sting.”
The win marked a powerful introduction to an important part of North Carolina's new team. The Tar Heels had six top-100 recruits debut on Saturday — players who have no memory of last season’s woes against The Dukes.
One of these first-years was Tayler Warehime, an attacker who scored four goals on seven shots in her first game as a Tar Heel. Postgame, Warehime said that the energy she saw her team work with in the offseason wasn’t fueled by its desire for revenge against JMU.
“Every day, just sort of going out and practicing, seeing how hard the upperclassmen work, I want to work that hard for them,” Warehime said. “We just wanted to play Carolina lacrosse, playing hard, playing fast, playing smart.”
With the rematch she’d been looking forward to since the end of last season, Ortega said that this win meant a lot to her team and to her individually.
But she’s not going to chase ghosts from seasons past.
“I think it kind of defines our new season,” Ortega said. “Last year, it didn’t end the way we wanted, but we’re kind of a new team with a whole different mentality. And I think we proved it tonight.”
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