“Unassisted” was a word that echoed over the PA speakers throughout Dorrance Field on Friday night seemingly each time the ball was shot successfully into the cage.
It was an ironic way to encapsulate the total team effort that went into the commanding victory that the No. 1 UNC women’s lacrosse team claimed over No. 4 Boston College.
The rematch of last season’s National Championship game with the Eagles did not have the same nail-biting quality. In fact, despite losing six of their top eight scorers from last season, the Tar Heels dominated from the opening possession as first-year attacker Marissa White drove directly into the teeth of the defense and scored an unassisted goal.
To start the season, UNC had scored the majority of its goals off an assist—29 of the 54 goals during the team's first four games. But as the first half came to a close, UNC had already filled up the cage with 11 goals — all of which came unassisted. On paper, it might have looked like a team that was not sharing the ball, one that was leaning on parts rather than playing as a cohesive unit.
But the opposite was true.
Seven different Tar Heels scored in the first half, and it was the confidence the players had in one another that helped them amass their daunting 11-2 lead at the half.
“We’ve really been working on working together as a unit,” junior midfielder Sophie Student said. “The work that we put in throughout the week really helped us all feel confident working as a team and getting those open looks to people who might not have necessarily scored in the past few games.”
Finding that confidence is what helped Student finish with a hat trick Friday night after scoring just two goals in UNC’s first four games combined. Two other Tar Heels had a hat trick as well: senior midfielder Nicole Humphrey and first-year attacker Caroline Godine, who notched three goals for the first time in her career.
It was not just the offense that built each other up, though.
The defense was suffocating, causing Boston College to shoot high or wide on most of its shot attempts. In each of its first four games, the Eagles had scored at least 14 goals. On Friday, the UNC defense held them to just five — the lowest mark by either team in the series since 2008.
“The chemistry has been working out perfectly,” sophomore defender Brooklyn Walker-Welch said. “We hold each other to, ‘you do your job, and I’ll do my job. You worry about your girl and I’ll worry about my girl,’ and if we need to help each other, we’ll be there.”
Most stops led to scores, and while the word “unassisted” roared over the PA, it was hard not to wonder how true that really was.
“We are a team through and through,” head coach Jenny Levy said. “We want seven threats on the field at all times. We have players that are really high-end and elite, but they play off each other and they’re unselfish and that’s our system.”
UNC’s first assist came with 8:45 to play in the third quarter as junior attacker Reilly Casey found Godine to give UNC a 12-3 advantage.
But there had been assists all night. Assists that were not visible on the box score. Believing in one another’s ability to get the job done, even at the highest level. Defenders covering each other’s backs. And even when a shot got through the defense, they trusted that goalkeeper Alecia Nicholas would save them — and she did, nine times.
On the night when she notched her 400th career win — the third most of any NCAA Division 1 head coach—Levy was quick to point out that it was not just her accomplishment. It had not been one woman. That accomplishment belonged to the program. It took an assist from a lot of different working parts to get there, just like on Friday.
“It’s really not in our character to not assist,” Levy said.
The Tar Heels put their trust in each other to assist the winning cause in any way necessary, even if that meant scoring “unassisted."
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