The scoreline of the No. 1 North Carolina women’s lacrosse team’s Saturday win over No. 10 Boston College was 21-9.
Sure, that suggests that the Tar Heels are a truly dominant team, but that’s no secret to head coach Jenny Levy. What intrigued her instead was that, despite her team's quality, they went 3-1 down early in the first half. She saw it as an opportunity.
“I love that we got into a tough situation in the first half,” Levy said. “I was curious to see how we would respond. That gives me a lot of information about our team.”
And respond they did. After allowing three goals in the first four minutes, the Tar Heels’ defense calmed down and stayed compact, not to be breached for another 13 minutes, while the offense scored three goals in the same amount of time, putting the team up 4-3. Never again would UNC trail in the game.
“We were like, 'OK, let’s play our game,'" senior midfielder Ally Mastroianni said. “'Don’t worry about the goals that went in, and let’s prevent the rest.' Everyone snapped it back to it, and we just played our game.”
With a 10-7 lead established at the end of the first half, UNC dominated the second half, holding the Eagles to just two goals and scoring 11 of its own.
This was a game the Tar Heels had circled in bold red on the calendar. UNC's upperclassmen will remember the overtime loss to the Eagles in the semifinals of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. For the Tar Heels, 21-9 isn’t just a routine blowout — it’s a statement.
“There’s been a long wait for this game, and a lot of us kept that anger and excitement to play them again,” senior attacker Jamie Ortega said. “I couldn’t ask for more. I think everyone was focused and dialed in.”
Levy echoed the importance of the Tar Heels playing their game and not getting sucked into the challenges Boston College posed. Ortega showed that mental fortitude in the game, scoring a team-leading six goals, with nobody else coming close.
“We were really focused on dialing in our details, being ourselves, and not getting into an emotional game with this team,” Levy said. “There was a lot of chirpiness out there. That’s not who we are, so we don’t want that to take us out of our game. It wasn’t necessarily a tactical adjustment; it was a mental adjustment.”
Still, UNC needed to get the tactics right. For Levy, the focus in training was on the fundamentals. She pointed out how the defense looked jumpy in the first half, and conceding just two goals in the second came from getting the little things right.
“I’m looking for excellence,” Levy said. “So I think about the little plays where we came up with a draw and turned it over, or we had an easy finish that we didn’t make. Sharpening what we’re doing and making it extremely elite is our focus.”
Many of UNC’s goals came from attackers and midfielders winning one-on-one battles, driving into the box and scoring — more individual brilliance than the typically unselfish team usually displays. Levy said that every game, the team adjusts to how the opposition's defense plays, and Saturday’s offense resulted from the Eagles constantly face-guarding star attackers Ortega and redshirt senior Katie Hoeg.
“I was really proud of the (midfielders) today,” Levy said. “They had some opportunities to get to the net and finish. We need more of that. That makes us dangerous.”
Talented teams let themselves down all the time because they lack the depth or mentality to dig deep when games get close and tough. On Saturday, Levy's squad showed they won't fold when the lights shine brightest.