Last year from the press box of Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md., during the NCAA women’s lacrosse semifinal, I watched as shot after shot wouldn’t go in for North Carolina due to the stellar play of Boston College goalkeeper Rachel Hall.
I watched as the Tar Heels' second-half comeback attempt fell short in a shocking 11-10 loss to Boston College, a team they had beaten by 12 goals on March 6, 2021.
I watched as they walked off the field in defeat after losing their perfect season.
I sat in front of my computer on the post-game Zoom and listened to then first-year attacker Caitlyn Wurzburger struggle to hold back tears while answering questions.
Then on Friday, in the 2022 NCAA women’s lacrosse semifinal, I couldn’t help but feel as if it was déjà vu.
UNC was struggling against a Northwestern team it had defeated by 11 goals on March 6, 2022. The Tar Heels were shut out for the first 16 minutes of the game due to the stellar play of Northwestern goalkeeper Madison Doucette.
Then something happened that I had watched before – the Tar Heels mounted a second-half comeback.
It felt all too similar to what I witnessed a year ago.
With each goal the Tar Heels scored, they looked more and more dominant and confident. And a player that UNC didn’t have last season in graduate attacker Sam Geiersbach went into another gear, scoring four goals in just four minutes.
I wanted the team to win, hoping that the players could avoid the same emotions I witnessed from the Tar Heels last year.
And they did just that.
Instead of their heads hanging low in defeat, they were held high after overcoming a seven-goal deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Wildcats, 15-14.
“In the back of my head, I'm thinking about all the stories we've heard from these guys and other teammates about not making it to the national championship,” Geiersbach said on Friday. “So, for me it's just putting it all for them to be on the line and getting excited.”
This set up another NCAA Tournament clash between the Tar Heels' kryptonite, the Boston College Eagles.
Coming into the championship matchup, UNC had won 56 of its last 58 games. Boston College was behind those two losses, both coming in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in 2019 and 2021.
It seemed inevitable that the only way the Tar Heels would win their first championship since 2016 and complete the first ever immaculate season would be to go through Boston College, the team that ruined their perfect season in 2021.
I was nervous going into the championship game.
It is said in sports that it's difficult to beat a team three times in one season. North Carolina had previously beaten Boston College in the regular season, 16-15, and ACC Championship, 16-9.
Would they be able to contain Charlotte North, the NCAA’s all-time goals leader, and get shots past Hall, something they couldn’t do last year?
“Walking off the field last year knowing we had unfinished business, and I knew for a fact that our team was headed in the right direction,” graduate goalkeeper Taylor Moreno said.
As I watched the game, I witnessed a different UNC team from the one I watched a year ago. The Tar Heels seized control of the match from the outset, jumping out to a 2-0 lead thanks to two goals from the hero of the semifinal, Geiersbach.
I watched as UNC retaliated after the Eagles tied the game at two, going on to score three consecutive goals to take a 5-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Then, that sinking feeling set in again.
After the Tar Heels built a 7-4 lead, I watched Boston College score four straight goals to take their first lead of the game, while Hall regained the poise in the cage that she had against UNC last year.
“We were still in the battle at that point, and we weren't concerned,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “They are a great team. Charlotte North is an incredible player, and they were going to go on a run. I had a lot of confidence that our players would respond to that.”
I watched as the game became a back-and-forth affair as each team traded goals, with neither leading by more than one goal in the third period.
Then with nine minutes left, I watched as the Tar Heels banded together.
Goals by Geiersbach and fifth-year attacker Scottie Rose Growney enabled the Tar Heels to take a 12-10 lead they would not relinquish. Fifth-year defender Emma Trenchard shut down North for the final nine minutes, and Moreno stifled the Eagles with two key saves over the final nine minutes.
If only two more shots would’ve gone in last year, North Carolina would’ve been in the national championship game.
This year, two more shots did go in, and the Tar Heels are national champions.