There are four words, scribbled in black permanent marker, on the white wristband that rests on UNC goalkeeper Taylor Moreno’s left arm.
"Win or go home."
On a night where the unbeaten North Carolina women’s lacrosse team squeaked past Stony Brook for an 8-5 victory, perhaps no Tar Heel played a more pivotal role under immense pressure than the graduate goalkeeper.
“For me, it’s just a matter of staying locked in, staying focused and not necessarily letting the excitement affect us,” Moreno said.
Trailing 3-4 at halftime, most of the team headed to the locker room, searching for an answer to Stony Brook’s seemingly impervious zone defense. But as usual, only Moreno stayed behind, to practice goalkeeping.
And why wouldn’t she? No amount of halftime adjustments from head coach Jenny Levy could make Moreno’s sole responsibility any different.
For around half an hour each game, the helmeted figure donning No. 30 on her jersey watches her teammates from afar as they try to score on the opposite end of the field. For the other half-hour, her task of protecting the cage is arguably the team’s least complicated — yet most daunting.
Daunting like when midfielder Ellie Masera, who led Stony Brook in scoring Thursday night, raced past several UNC defenders and lasered the ball into the bottom right corner of the cage for the first score of the game.
Daunting like the explosive sequence from midfielder Jaden Hampel, who pirouetted through the entire North Carolina defensive unit for an unassisted score, then soloed another goal minutes later to tie the game early in the second quarter.
The goals stunned the crowd of Tar Heel fans at Dorrance Field, an early sign that this wouldn't be an easy victory for UNC.
“We’re not surprised that (Stony Brook) came in feisty,” Levy said. “They were well-prepared.”
But while Hampel and Masera single-handedly ignited the Seawolves early on, it was Moreno’s 10 saves that doused Stony Brook’s offensive flames. Whenever a Seawolf found an open lane for an easy scoring opportunity, the poised goalkeeper was there for the challenge — six of Masera’s shots on goal found themselves in the pocket of Moreno’s stick.
“It takes every unit to win a national championship,” graduate attacker Andie Aldave said. “To get through these hard games, credit to our defense and Taylor — it starts with her with the big saves.”
Sure, with a top-ranked All-American attacking unit notching over 17 goals per game, Moreno and her defensive squad are seldom relied on to make crucial stops.
But, as shown on Thursday night, they’re more than capable of stepping up in key moments when shots aren’t falling for offensive stars like graduate attacker Jamie Ortega and graduate midfielder Ally Mastroianni, who both finished with no goals.
North Carolina now stands just two wins shy of winning its first NCAA title since 2016. As the team heads up to Baltimore, it’ll be preparing for its Final Four matchup with Northwestern — a team UNC routed 20-9 over two months ago.
But looking back on a blowout win does little for the Tar Heels’ hopeful title run, and pales in comparison to Thursday’s gritty victory over the country’s best scoring defense.
“I would rather have a hard and challenging game than breeze through one, so I think this was huge for us in terms of continuing to improve and get better as a team,” Moreno said. “And it’s certainly going to prepare us going into the Final Four.”