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'I was prepped for this': Reilly Casey shines in UNC women's lacrosse win over Florida

UNC junior attacker Reilly Casey (7) and junior midfielder Alyssa Long (10) celebrate after the game against UF on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023, at Dorrance Field. UNC beat UF 12-5.

Reilly Casey always knew her time would come.

The redshirt sophomore attacker of the top-ranked North Carolina women’s lacrosse team saw limited action last season, but at every practice, Casey played on the scout team to help UNC’s star-studded lineup rehearse its game plan.

Her task? Going head-to-head with four-time All-American and two-time ACC Defender of the Year Emma Trenchard.

If Saturday was any indication — when Casey notched a hat trick with no turnovers in a 12-5 win over No. 7 Florida — the days on the scout team paid off.

“When (Casey) first came in, she needed a lot of work,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “She’s put the time in, gotten better and learned the game.”

Casey’s performance against the Gators demonstrated a selfless, pass-first mentality. Before she scored a goal — or even attempted a shot — the attacker dished out a pair of assists.

Midway through the first quarter, Casey patiently surveyed the Gator defense. Seeing an open lane, she hesitated, stutter-stepped inwards then threw it to a cutting Marissa White. The first-year attacker lasered the ball into the cage to draw the match’s first blood.

“On the offensive end, we all have an equal role and really support each other,” White said. “So it really allows you to just relax, play, have fun and do your job.”

Then, early in the second quarter, Casey controlled possession once again. Pacing along the left crease, she found junior attacker Caitlyn Wurzburger stealthily curling behind the cage. Casey's assist allowed Wurzburger to dump the ball in to put UNC up 3-0.

Levy said that Casey and Wurzburger "complement each other well," which largely contributes to the Tar Heels’ balanced scoring attack. The pair live together at UNC, and as Saturday showed, their connection could be integral to North Carolina’s quest for another title this season.

After assisting on Wurzburger’s lone goal, Casey began to display her prowess in one-on-one scoring.

As North Carolina led 4-0 midway through the second quarter, graduate attacker Lauren Figura set a screen for Casey, forcing a Gator switch. With the desired matchup in play, Casey sprinted along the top of the crease and stopped on a dime. She pivoted back over and exploded past her defender, firing the ball into the back of the net for her first goal.

“Her IQ for the game is incredibly high,” Levy said. “It's like having another coach on the field.”

Midway through the fourth quarter, Casey converted a free position shot to cap off her offensive showcase, all but securing the game with an 11-4 lead.

Casey finished last season with 18 points. In just three games this year, she’s already tallied a team-leading 16.

“Coming into Carolina I knew it’d be tough to get on the field right away,” Casey said. “Just being patient, working hard and working on your own pays off eventually.”

When time expired, it was all too fitting that the ball was in Casey’s hands. As the lone Tar Heel in the corner of Dorrance Field jogged away, she raised her stick with her right arm, then emphatically slammed the ball into the ground in satisfaction.

The journey was anything but easy. That tends to happen when you’re tested daily by one of college lacrosse’s best defenders. But for Casey, leading UNC to a decisive top-10 win is not just long hours of practice finally coming to fruition — it’s a sign of what’s more to come.

“In the past seasons, I was always playing against the best,” Casey said. “I was prepped for this.”


@dthsports | 

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Daniel Wei

Daniel Wei is a 2023-24 assistant sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as a senior writer. Daniel is a junior pursuing a double major in business administration and economics.