Defense wins championships.
In Sunday’s ACC Championship game, the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team's defense did just that: lift UNC to its fifth straight tournament title. The win was also the program's 15th consecutive ACC Tournament win, which is a conference record.
In a 9-4 win over No. 2 Syracuse, the Tar Heels' defense held the Orange to just nine shots on goal and forced 16 turnovers. After Syracuse scored its first goal at the 25:22 mark, it didn’t score again until there were 49 seconds left in the first half.
Syracuse came out of the halftime break with a sense of urgency and scored two goals in the first 15 minutes to close the gap to 6-4, but after that, the team was shut out for the rest of the game.
“Today I felt like our defense just did a really good job of playing solid man-to-man defense and keeping them out of critical scoring spots,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “Syracuse is a really good shooting team, and they get a lot of people on miscommunications and bad angles and I thought our defense did a great job and our goalie did a great job, just unbelievable.”
The low total of goals allowed for North Carolina has been a trend all season, as the team has only allowed an average of 5.95 goals per game. This is in part due to the stellar defense Levy highlighted which features senior goalkeeper Taylor Moreno, senior defender Emma Trenchard and redshirt senior defender Caroline Wakefield, all of whom were on the All-Tournament Team, with Moreno being named the MVP.
“We’re all basically on the same page; we communicate a lot both on the field and off the field and I think building that chemistry off the field is kind of what translates to us being able to work so well on the field,” Moreno said. “We really go into each and every game not taking any of our opponents lightly and I think we usually overprepare ourselves.”
UNC harassed Syracuse all game, never letting up and leeching onto every player. Wakefield exemplified this defensive effort through her relentlessness, causing five turnovers while scooping up four groundballs.
Wakefield is a sixth-year senior and is leaving the team after this season. Winning the ACC Tournament at Dorrance Field in her last year wearing Carolina blue left her thankful for her experience.
“I’m a bit emotional about it, in a good way. I was a bit nervous, but I got my butterflies going in the right way,” Wakefield said. “Shoutout to the Carolina family, this wouldn’t been possible if it weren’t for Roy Williams’ donation — I’m a proud Tar Heel, born, bred, dead.”
Despite the strong showing, the defense didn’t do all the work. The Tar Heels still needed to put balls in the back of the net to win the game, and these goals on Sunday didn’t just come from the team's usual players. Reserve sophomores Elizabeth Hillman and Melissa Sconone combined for three goals and two assists and each drew two free-position shots.
These contributions helped the Tar Heels pull away as Hillman scored to give UNC a two-goal cushion midway through the first half. After a Syracuse goal, Sconone scored at the end of the half to once again put the Tar Heels up by two. At the 13:14 mark in the second half, she added another goal to help put the nail in Syracuse’s coffin.
“(Hillman’s) a kid who just does her job and plays within herself but also makes stuff happen and people spark off of her,” Levy said. “Sconone did a great job today and she was a big part of our success.”
Defense wins championships and with the NCAA Tournament now ahead, this defense will look to bring the same harassing intensity to it.
To the rest of the NCAA: Look out, North Carolina is coming.
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