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Preview: Keys to an NCAA semifinal win for UNC women's lacrosse against Northwestern

Graduate attacker Andie Aldave (31) passes the ball through Stony Brook defenders. UNC won 8-5 against Stony Brook at home in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Thursday, May 19, 2022.

On Thursday, the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team grinded out an 8-5 win over Stony Brook in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament to clinch the program's fourth-straight Final Four appearance.

On Friday, the Tar Heels will square off against the No. 4 seed Northwestern Wildcats in a rematch of an early-season bout. In its previous matchup, UNC dismantled the Wildcats at Dorrance Field, 20-9, behind five goals from graduate attacker Sam Geiersbach.

However, that contest was over two months ago. Since then, Northwestern has won 12 of its last 14 games, including a 15-4 victory over No. 5 seed Syracuse in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Here are three keys for the Tar Heels to produce the same outcome seen in early March and earn a berth to the national championship. 

Slow down Lauren Gilbert

If there’s one player the Tar Heels should hone in on against the Wildcats, it’s First Team All-Big Ten selection Lauren Gilbert.

The graduate attacker has been an offensive force all season, as she’s found the back of the cage 74 times — good for sixth in the country. Gilbert has averaged just over four goals and one assist in each of the Wildcats’ wins this season. 

What’s even more striking, however, is her 1.75 goal average in Northwestern’s four losses, a mark almost two goals below Gilbert’s season average of 3.7.

But how do you slow Gilbert down?

The Lake Oswego, Ore. native thrives in a fast Northwestern offense that’s seen Gilbert make a living off of breaking down defenders with her elusive maneuvers. In both transition and designed plays, she always appears to situate herself in one-on-one matchups where she can juke her way to the cage.

So, help-side defense and defensive accountability for the Tar Heels are going to play a huge role in keeping the Wildcats’ leading scorer at bay. 

Renew the offense

Stony Brook boasted the top scoring defense in the nation, and had the Tar Heels looking out of sorts for the majority of the quarterfinals match. The Seawolves’ aggressive and compact zone was executed to perfection, and it held UNC to a season-low eight goals.

In addition to the zone creating trouble for the Tar Heels, UNC appeared to be timid on the offensive end. 

Maybe it was the early deficit or the daunting stick of each Seawolf defender, but for North Carolina to advance they must leave behind any second-guessing within the offense.

In order to do such, the Tar Heels will need to play with the same fluidity and freedom they've shown the entire season, with their crisp passes and flawless teamwork. 

Rewrite big-stage struggles

Although this marks the program’s fourth-straight Final Four appearance, North Carolina hasn’t brought home a national championship title since 2016.

Last season, the Tar Heels' situation looked nearly identical to this year's team, with an undefeated record and top seed heading into the final weekend. Yet, UNC lost to Boston College in the semifinals to end a season that senior attacker Jamie Ortega described as stressful, due to the ever-building pressure to finish off a perfect season.

However, North Carolina has a noticeably different vibe and motivation heading into Baltimore this year.

These Tar Heel veterans have won almost everything. They have multiple ACC titles and a ridiculously high winning percentage — .900 in the past five seasons. With all their success has come a joyous energy around the team that’s been evident along the sidelines.

But there’s one thing missing: a national championship. 

No one on UNC's roster has won the final game of the season and raised a championship trophy. With the pain of last year’s semifinal loss in mind, this year’s team may be primed more than ever to rewrite the past and get North Carolina back into the title game.


@dthsports |