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Thursday August 18th

'A jack of all trades' UNC women's lacrosse star Taylor Moreno leaves her mark

<p>Taylor Moreno (30) guards the goal during a 2018 NCAA quarterfinal win against Northwestern.&nbsp;</p>
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Taylor Moreno (30) guards the goal during a 2018 NCAA quarterfinal win against Northwestern. 

If someone were to ask Taylor Moreno to describe herself in one word, it would be impossible.

To say she’s athletic would throw out the mural, t-shirts, canvases, equipment and shoes she’s designed for the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team. Describing her as artistic would discount her stellar college lacrosse career and more than 10 high school varsity letters. 

After all, the senior goalkeeper used both skills to help design warm-up shirts for her team entering this season that brought awareness to several important social justice issues, including Black Lives Matter, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.

‘Nobody can touch me’

Moreno’s time at Huntington High School in Long Island, New York was spent playing lacrosse, soccer, basketball and track — not to mention earning a first-degree black belt in taekwondo — and becoming the first girl at her school to be on the varsity football team.

All of the sports she played before college allowed her to develop new perspectives, skills and relationships she wouldn’t otherwise have had, but she ultimately fell in love with lacrosse and the goalkeeper position — because she "got to put all the equipment on."

For Moreno, the adrenaline from being such a key component of the game made her feel unstoppable. So did the helmet. 

“I was like, ‘Nobody can touch me,’” Moreno said.

Despite suffering an ACL tear both her senior year of high school and first year of college, and a medial meniscus tear as a redshirt first-year, Moreno made a name for herself at UNC when she came back before the ACC Tournament in 2018.

“I was just like, ‘I literally have nothing left to lose,’” Moreno said. “‘And if this is the last time I play lacrosse, at this point I'm just going to make sure it's worthwhile.’”

Moreno was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week less than a month after her return. She set the ACC Tournament record with 33 saves, including a career-high 17 in the team’s semifinal win and 11 in the championship game against Boston College, which was undefeated entering the matchup. For her efforts, she was named the ACC Tournament MVP.

She made it worthwhile. 

Since then, she’s continued to make a name for herself. As a redshirt sophomore in 2019, she was named first-team All-ACC and ranked fourth nationally in save percentage and seventh in goals against. In 2020, she started all seven games and won them all before the remainder of the season was cancelled due to COVID-19. 

In 2021, she entered the campaign on the preseason All-ACC team, and has allowed just 33 goals during the Tar Heels’ 7-0 start. 

Outside of her growth as a goalkeeper, head coach Jenny Levy said Moreno has grown to be an outspoken member of the team — as connections with her teammates off the field supplement her on-field performance. 

“Now that she’s in her senior year, she has a lot of confidence and is really directing the group back there,” Levy said. “Our defense is No. 1 in the country, it’s poised and confident — and she’s a big part of that.”

‘Gives her gift to everyone around her’

While her performance on the field paints a clear picture of the elite athlete she is, her other talents can’t be displayed by statistics.   

Art runs in Moreno’s family. Her mom was a freelance artist, and her sister attends the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. 

Moreno developed her own passion for art through graphic design and painting. She has designed shoes since high school and labeled her “signature paintings” as silhouette photos of her teammates that she puts on a canvas. 

One of those paintings hangs in the house of her close friend and teammate, Katie Hoeg. 

One major project Moreno took on was a mural in the tunnel at Dorrance Field that the Tar Heels walk out of before games. The mural is a Rameses head with the phrase “We get to” written across its head. That phrase was coined by the late Matt DiStefano, who inspired the team when he spoke to them about his fight with cancer. 

“We had chosen ‘We get to’ to be our team’s mantra for the year and it turned into such a meaningful phrase for us,” Moreno said. “So that was another surreal painting moment for me.”

Most recently, Moreno designed the black warm-up shirts the UNC athletic department gave the team as part of the ACC’s initiative announced last fall to create solidarity through the use of the symbol “UNITE.”

Levy said the Tar Heels had a Zoom meeting where they discussed what causes were important to them and what type of statement they wanted the shirt to make. Taylor then used her teammates' input to create a design. 

The team wanted to include words that encompassed the Black Lives Matter movement, along with LGBTQ and women’s rights. The shirt says “Equality” and the individual letters are made of phrases relating to those ideas the team came up with.

“There are several underrepresented groups that we wanted to highlight in the equality sense,” Levy said. “So it embraced everything that we had been talking about over the past eight to 10 months.” 

Moreno appreciated the confidence her team had in her to come up with an impactful design, and said that seeing the Tar Heels wear the shirt on game days has been surreal. 

“She just gives her gift to everyone around her,” Hoeg said. “And that is so incredible to see, and she just keeps inspiring us all because she is the jack of all trades.” 

‘The sky's the limit’

The shirts Moreno designed were a result of a collision between art and athletics, but both areas intertwine in other ways for her, too. 

Art helped her cope with the series of injuries she endured at the beginning of her college career. She had never before had the time to sit down and be creative, and finally being able to was therapeutic for her. 

Everyone around her also sees the ways her artistic and athletic skills complement each other. She said playing goalkeeper is an art, and allowing herself to be more fluid in such a technical position helps her on the field. On the flip side, the steadiness of her position translates to the delicacy and attention to detail that art requires. 

“I think there's a lot of research done that the creative brain on the field or in sports is linked to the artistic brain,” Levy said. “And I think her play reflects a creativity and fluidity that makes her great.” 

As Moreno looks into her future after lacrosse, she isn’t sure if her career will include art, but she has considered incorporating aspects of graphic design into it.

No matter what she ends up doing, though, she’s confident art will remain an important part of her life, whether it be as a creative outlet or a full-blown career. 

“She truly does have such a great artistic gift,” Hoeg said. “I don't even think she knows what direction she wants to go, but I really do think the sky's the limit for her and she will have so many opportunities to express that special gift that she has.”


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