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Saturday June 25th

'Good vibes all over': UNC women's lacrosse cruises its way to NCAA second-round win

Members of the UNC women's lacrosse team celebrate a goal during their NCAA Tournament second round match against Virginia at Dorrance Field on Sunday, May 15, 2022. UNC won 24-2.
Buy Photos Members of the UNC women's lacrosse team celebrate a goal during their NCAA Tournament second round match against Virginia at Dorrance Field on Sunday, May 15, 2022. UNC won 24-2.

In some ways, the top-ranked UNC women’s lacrosse team hasn’t changed at all.

The Tar Heels dismantled the Virginia Cavaliers, 24-2, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Just like last year, North Carolina entered Sunday's matchup boasting an unblemished record and an ACC Championship trophy.

Its 24 goals — a program record in NCAA Tournament play — showcased a juggernaut offense led by fifth-year attackers Jamie Ortega and Scottie Rose Growney. Its suffocating defensive unit, anchored by fifth-year defender Emma Trenchard and graduate goalkeeper Taylor Moreno, held Virginia scoreless in the second half.

Looking at schedules, rosters and stat sheets won’t reveal any glaring outliers. After all, blowout wins at Dorrance Field don’t surprise many fans. 

Same context, same results and few new faces. So what’s different about this group?

“This year, it’s just good vibes all over,” graduate midfielder Ally Mastroianni said.

Observing the Tar Heels’ free-flowing synergy tells a different story from last season. There was the Tewaaraton Award finalist Mastroianni, weaving her way in and out of dark blue uniforms for an unassisted goal inside. There was sophomore attacker Caitlyn Wurzburger finding a cutting Ortega or graduate attacker Andie Aldave en route to tallying five assists in just the first nine minutes of action.

And on top of the scoring — every play made on Sunday, be it a draw control, defensive stop or ground ball, was met with zealous celebration from the sidelines and on the field.

“In the past few years, we haven’t been as energetic or on the same page,” Ortega said. “It feels like nothing can really stop us if we continue to be this way and just play for one another.”

To hear head coach Jenny Levy tell it, there’s a greater sense of happiness and unity that has contributed to the team’s relaxed and renewed mindset.

“I feel like our kids felt like they needed to be perfect and the burden on that took away some of the joy,” Levy said. “Whereas this year, the joy is playing together and playing on the field.”

With every win last season, the pressure of not spoiling a perfect season increased and ultimately caught up to UNC in its 11-10 Final Four loss to Boston College. The nerves were evident in the Tar Heels’ uncharacteristically errant play as they were denied a trip to the NCAA title game.

“Last year it just felt like we were playing because we were scared to lose and burn our record,” Ortega said. “This year we’re just playing to win.”

Now, the star-studded lineup isn’t concerned about staying undefeated, as they know all too well the consequences of doing so. Moreover, it’s the final ride for many of UNC's veterans, including Ortega and Mastroianni.

“It hasn’t really hit me,” Ortega said. “I just try not to look at it too far ahead. I’m trying to just think of it as one game at a time, one practice at a time.”

According to Levy, the more experienced players helped the team tune out mental distractions in the practices leading up to the tournament.

“No nerves (in practice),” Levy said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of excitement. A lot of positive reinforcement from player to player. I think there’s a lot of appreciation and gratitude for our starters who bang against our second team on a regular basis.”

The culmination of dominance, heartbreak and redemption all boils down to this. Standing just three wins shy of winning its first NCAA Championship since 2016, UNC’s core group of seasoned veterans has seen almost everything.

“We’re feeling really confident going into the tournament because we know whatever comes at us, we can find a way,” Mastroianni said.

@danielhwei

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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