Eight minutes to save the season.
Just 480 seconds to stay perfect and stave off elimination.
That was the situation the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team found themselves in Saturday during the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals against Stony Brook at Dorrance Field.
The Tar Heels trailed 11-9, and a back-and-forth game all afternoon made putting together a scoring run a difficult task.
Fortunately for the UNC team that features 9 seniors and 3 graduate players and is full of veteran leadership, it wasn’t their first battle with adversity. After going down by two, the Tar Heels took less than three minutes to charge back and tie the game at 11. Then in the final six minutes, they scored three more goals to complete the comeback and win the game 14-11.
With the win, the Tar Heels advanced to the Final Four where they’ll face ACC foe Boston College at Towson University on Friday.
“We were down by two and found a way to score the last five goals," head coach Jenny Levy said. "That is leadership, but that’s also trust. It’s also love. You gotta love each other and play hard for each other."
The cherry on top of the five-goal comeback sundae was a free position goal by redshirt senior attacker Katie Hoeg that gave UNC a three-goal advantage with just over a minute remaining to put the game out of reach.
After the ball found the back of the net, Hoeg raised both of her fists and was audibly and visibly excited that her career in Carolina blue wouldn’t be coming to an end.
“My body took over, and it was one of those things I wasn’t really thinking to celebrate. It was just overwhelming emotion,” Hoeg said. “When I was stepping up to the line, I just told myself to be confident and you got this, and then when it went in, it was just an overwhelming feeling of pride.”
In the season opener, UNC defeated the same Stony Brook team 14-7. However, with each of the 20 games that the unbeaten Tar Heels have won, the target on their back has only grown bigger.
“Everyone is going to play their best game against us. Nobody really likes us, everyone wants to beat us, we knew it was going to be a tough game,” senior attacker Jamie Ortega said. “Every team is going to play their best game. They played scrappy and gritty and really tested us.”
The Tar Heels have two of the best attackers in the country with Hoeg and Ortega, a stone-walled defense featuring senior goalkeeper Taylor Moreno, a Tewaaraton Award finalist along with Ortega, and they’re the No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Who wouldn’t want to become the David of women’s lacrosse and beat the Goliath that UNC has come to be?
But Hoeg and Ortega powered UNC through Stony Brook’s David-esque efforts, combining for five points in UNC’s five-goal run. Hoeg assisted Ortega for the team's eleventh goal which tied up the game. This partnership illustrates the team's love for each other that Levy alluded to.
“I’m excited to keep playing with (Hoeg), I’m not done yet with her and the other seniors,” Ortega said. “I’m just happy to be able (to) have another opportunity with all the seniors and that was definitely going through my head the whole game.”
They had just eight minutes to save the season, but for Ortega and her teammates, love and trust propelled them to a winning effort.