When asked about what made senior goalkeeper Taylor Moreno special, UNC women's lacrosse head coach Jenny Levy consistently repeated one word: maturity.
“This year, she’s just at a different level on and off the field,” Levy said. “We have a goalie where we aren’t riding any type of emotional rollercoaster, there’s a lot of trust in what she can do.”
This maturity was on display Friday when No. 1 North Carolina beat No. 8 Florida, 11-5. The five goals the Gators scored were just a fraction of the 14 they scored in their season opener, a testament to the talent of Moreno.
As she was quick to point out, though, it was the talent of the entire UNC defense as well that helped Moreno haul in 11 saves off 16 shots on goal for the day.
“The saves that I’m making in the game, it’s not going to happen without our defense,” Moreno said. “Without them, it could certainly be going a different direction.”
Both defenses showed up early, stopping the other teams’ offenses until UNC senior attacker Scottie Rose Growney scored at the 22:30 mark of the opening frame off a free position goal — the first of four goals for her on the day. The combination of a wet field and a suffocating UNC defense led to three early Florida turnovers, the third of which led to a Tar Heels transition where senior attacker Jamie Ortega found senior midfielder Ally Mastroianni on the crease to put UNC up 2-0.
Florida responded with just over 16 minutes to go in the first half to bring UNC’s lead back down to one. Great defensive play from both sides kept the game at 2-1 until the 7:57 mark, when graduate transfer Kerrigan Miller scored her first goal as a Tar Heel off a free position goal to put UNC up by two again. Just 48 seconds later, Growney added another goal onto the UNC lead from yet another free position goal.
North Carolina looked as if it would go into the half with a three-goal cushion, but two goals 31 seconds apart from Florida brought the UNC lead down to one going into the half.
Moreno said maintaining composure despite the Gators' run was key.
“By me anchoring down and being composed in the back of the net, that gets my defense on the same page as me and calms them down," Moreno said.
The UNC offense came out of the break determined to get the lead back up, and they did. Within 13 minutes of the start of the second half, UNC added goals from Ortega, junior attacker Tayler Warehime and a third goal from Growney to bring the lead up to four. Florida replied with a goal at the 14:07 mark, but UNC fought back with two quick punches from Growney and Mastroianni within a one-minute span.
Florida continued to try and fight back with a goal with just over seven minutes remaining in the game, but with saves from Moreno — in addition to adding two more goals onto their lead — UNC stopped Florida’s effort to make a comeback before it could gain any serious traction.
“We kept the pedal down and kept believing in ourselves and had a lot of trust in each other,” Growney said. “We knew Taylor would make saves and the defense was going to make stops, we just had a lot of faith in each other.”