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'Sam went crazy': Geiersbach's late-game heroics propel UNC women's lacrosse to NCAA title game

Graduate student attacker Sam Geiersbach (36) celebrates with graduate student attacker Andie Aldave (31) after scoring the tying goal in the fourht quarter of UNC's NCAA Tournament semifinal match against Northwestern at Homewood Field in Baltimore, M.D. on May 27, 2022. UNC won 15-14.

BALTIMORE, Md. — All seemed lost with just under eleven minutes remaining in North Carolina’s Final Four bout against No. 4 Northwestern, as the Tar Heels found themselves trailing by seven goals.

Teetering on the brink of elimination, someone had to step up to save UNC's season.

Could it be ACC Attacker of the Year Jamie Ortega? Or perhaps graduate midfielder Ally Mastroianni, a Tewaaraton Award finalist? Maybe, even, fifth-year attacker Scottie Rose Growney, who’s netted over 50 goals this year?

No, no and no again.

Try Sam Geiersbach, a graduate attacker who, thanks to a FaceTime with UNC’s Taylor Moreno and Maddie Hoffer, made the decision last season to transfer from Richmond.

Playing in her first NCAA semifinal game, Geiersbach netted five goals as part of an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter that propelled North Carolina’s comeback to defeat the Wildcats, 15-14. 

But before the fireworks from Geiersbach could explode onto Johns Hopkins' Homewood Field, Friday’s game started out as an afternoon to be forgotten for everyone on the Tar Heels’ sideline.

“They came out and punched us in the mouth,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “I didn’t have the team ready to roll.”

Punch is an understatement.

Within the first period, the Wildcats engineered a quick 6-0 lead and had the top-ranked Tar Heels facing their largest deficit of the season. Midway through the fourth quarter, the margin had increased to seven.

After a quick two-goal run from the Tar Heels made the score 14-9, a key woman-up opportunity for North Carolina was killed by Northwestern, terminating the momentum generated by UNC. As the Northwestern fans erupted, Geiersbach sprang to life.

“As time was dwindling down, I realized this might be my last go at it,” she said. “For me, I was putting it all in for (my teammates).”

Probing behind the cage, Geiersbach peered around the right side, spun by her defender and swirled a desperation shot inside the left post to cut the lead to four with just over five minutes remaining. Twenty-seven seconds later, Growney put the ball in the net.

Not even 30 seconds after that, Geiersbach delivered again. 

This time sprinting to her left, the preseason All-American zipped a bullet past the left-side post to bring the score to 14-12. As the Tar Heels huddled up after trimming the lead to two, a sense of new life could be felt.

“After every goal, we would look each other in the eyes and say, ‘I believe in you, you got this,'” Mastroianni said. “We refused to go away.”

Geiersbach simply could not be stopped, scoring unassisted once again with just over three minutes left in regulation.

Trailing by one point, Geiersbach again found herself on the cusp of a goal. In attack mode, she spun once, and then once more, before finding herself steps from the cage to sling a bouncing shot that found the back of the net.

Tie game. 

In the blink of an eye, the Tar Heels had stormed back behind four unassisted goals from Geiersbach in just over three minutes — an individual performance even her own coach can’t believe. 

“Sam went crazy,” Levy said. “Not one kid is going to make or break a day, well Sam might have.” 

However, she wasn’t finished. With a minute remaining, and the game still knotted up, the Tar Heels regained possession. 

Instead of going to the likes of Ortega or Mastroianni, players who have witnessed years of UNC’s postseason struggles, the Tar Heels dished the ball off to Geiersbach. Again, the attacker bested Northwestern goalkeeper Madison Doucette, firing in the game-winning goal between a pair of Wildcat defenders. 

For the first time, the purple craze went mute. 

North Carolina had pulled it off, going on a blazing 8-0 run in the final 10 minutes to prolong an undefeated season and earn the program’s first national title appearance in six years. 

And when the season looked to be all but lost, it was that preseason FaceTime the team pointed to — that call to the now-legendary Geiersbach — that ended up paying off season-saving dividends in May. 

“I think that FaceTime did pretty well,” Moreno said. “Thank god we did (convince Sam).”


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