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Thursday August 18th

'Best decision of my life': UNC women's lacrosse veterans run it back one last time for NCAA title

Fifth year attacker Jamie Ortega (3) celebrates after scoring a goal during UNC's NCAA Tournament Championship Final against Boston College at Homewood Field in Baltimore, Md. on Sunday, May 29, 2022. UNC won 12-11.
Buy Photos Fifth year attacker Jamie Ortega (3) celebrates after scoring a goal during UNC's NCAA Tournament Championship Final against Boston College at Homewood Field in Baltimore, Md. on Sunday, May 29, 2022. UNC won 12-11.

BALTIMORE, Md. — Four All-Americans. Four positions.

After the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team was eliminated by Boston College in the Final Four a year ago, head coach Jenny Levy met individually with each of her then-seniors to discuss their future with the program.

Goalkeeper Taylor Moreno, midfielder Ally Mastroianni, defender Emma Trenchard and attacker Jamie Ortega all took no more than 30 seconds to confirm their return to Chapel Hill.

“It was probably the best decision of my life,” Mastroianni said. “The people and the place, it was just too good to leave.”

Now, the Tar Heels stand at the pinnacle of college lacrosse after defeating the Eagles, 12-11, in the national championship.

Perhaps no group of Tar Heels feels greater satisfaction than Levy’s veterans, who have anchored the program since 2018. After enduring postseason heartbreak year after year, the seasoned squad finally earned its redemption.

“I just cried tears of gratitude,” Ortega said. “It wasn’t of sadness this time.”

Each player thrived in their unique role throughout the title run. 

It started with Moreno, North Carolina’s cage protector, and rightfully so — no Tar Heel on the active roster had been under Levy’s tutelage longer. As a special reminder of Moreno’s seniority, the team even has a nickname for its star goalkeeper.

“We call her ‘Grandpa,’” Levy said. “Because she’s in her sixth year.”

So perhaps it’s only fitting that Moreno’s job entailed minimal movement for most of the game. But her 11 saves, including a late stop against the country’s best player, Charlotte North, demonstrated elite reflexes and instincts that were anything but ancient.

“I knew going into this game that I was going to need to have my teammates’ backs,” Moreno said.

Then there was the mobile Mastroianni, who never seemed to tire out as she dashed all over Homewood Field. 

On offense, she’d attack the cage aggressively while being hacked by the Eagle back line. In the midfield, Mastroianni would go head to head with North on draw controls. On defense, the lengthy 5-foot-9 ACC Midfielder of the Year would disrupt clear attempts by sneaking behind maroon jerseys and checking opposing sticks to force turnovers.

When asked if she felt the game highlighted the importance of two-way midfielders, the exhausted Mastroianni could only laugh.

“Ask my legs,” she joked. “They say yes.”

Meanwhile, the nimble 5-foot-4 Trenchard, ACC Defender of the Year, was tasked with tailing North all game — matching the scoring machine’s explosive first step, weaving around Eagle picks and minimizing fouls. 

“(Emma) and Charlotte are going to be happy to be on the same U.S. team this summer,” Levy said. “They won’t have to battle against each other.”

Thanks to Trenchard's work, North was held scoreless in the final 17 minutes of the game, diminishing the chances of a Boston College comeback.

And finally, Ortega, North Carolina’s all-time leading scorer, whose poise kept the attacking unit focused during tight stretches of the championship game. The fifth-year had been double teamed or face guarded for most of the afternoon, but still found ways to contribute.

With 12:21 left in the game, a forced turnover by Mastroianni led to a heave downfield to Ortega, who caught the pass in stride. For once, all that stood between the two-time ACC Attacker of the Year and the net was Eagle goalkeeper Rachel Hall.

Ortega patiently pump faked once, causing Hall to waver for a split second. Then, she buried the shot into the top right corner of the cage, converting the fast break opportunity to keep her team in the game at 9-9.

“It doesn’t really matter how many points I have,” she said. “It depends what the end result is. If that means setting picks or just being that spark, then I’m fine with that.”

Ortega, Trenchard, Mastroianni and Moreno. 

Four players, four seasons of denial.

Four decisions to run it back one last year with a final shot at winning it all.

And as of Sunday, four national champions.

@danielhwei

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com



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