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Preview: UNC women's lacrosse takes on Clemson to begin ACC title defense

UNC first-year midfielder Kaleigh Harden (17) passes to graduate attacker Lauren Figura (27) during the second quarter of the women's lacrosse game against Duke at Koskinen Stadium on Thursday, April 20, 2023. UNC beat Duke 13-6.

This Wednesday, the No. 3 seed North Carolina women’s lacrosse team will play their first postseason game of 2023 when they travel to Charlotte to play the No. 6 seed Clemson Tigers in the first round of the ACC Championship. 

UNC’s record of 12-3 overall and 7-2 in the ACC has launched them into contention to win its seventh consecutive ACC Championships. But Clemson will not be an easy first opponent, as the Tigers have built a name for themselves during their program’s inaugural season. They currently hold a record of 12-5 as they look to upset the No. 3 team in the country. 

On March 26, the Tar Heels and the Tigers faced off for the first time, and UNC took the game handily with a decisive 17-8 victory.

Here are three keys for UNC to pull out a victory and advance in the ACC tournament: 

Continue the established offensive flow

First-year attacker Marissa White has proven to be an integral part of UNC’s offense this season. She is currently UNC’s leading scorer with 35 goals in her rookie year. 

In UNC’s first matchup with Clemson, White led the team with five goals. These five goals came with assists from playmakers Caitlyn Wurzburger and Reilly Casey, who lead the team in assists with 29 and 26, respectively. 

In each of UNC’s three losses this season, White scored two goals or less. UNC is undefeated when she scores three or more in a single game.  

Similarly, UNC is undefeated when Wurzburger has three or more assists. In all three of UNC’s losses combined, Casey only had one assist.  

North Carolina is a hard team to beat when White, Wurzbuger and Casey are on top of their games. That trio will work to create an offensive presence that may prove unsurmountable for the Tigers.   

Lock down on defense 

The Tigers’ offense has been led this season by veteran transfers Hanna Hilcoff and Gianna New. The pair lead the team with 50 and 49 goals, respectively, and both have started every game this season. 

Hilcoff and New will be a challenge for UNC sophomore goalkeeper Alecia Nicholas, who surrendered five goals to the pair last month. With a save percentage of 0.470, Nicholas has made 111 saves in her first season as UNC's starter. 

In addition to Nicholas, Emily Nalls and Brooklyn Walker-Welch have served as UNC’s top one-on-one defenders. Nalls leads the pack with 20 ground balls and 19 caused turnovers. Walker-Welch has 17 ground balls on the season and 10 caused turnovers.

A concerted effort from Nicholas, Nalls and Walker-Welch will be essential for a win against the Tigers.

Establish an early rhythm 

All three of UNC’s losses this season followed a similar pattern: the Tar Heels allowed too many goals in the first half without scoring many of their own and fell into an unsustainable game of catch-up. 

In their first loss against Northwestern, UNC allowed three goals before scoring any of their own. By halftime, North Carolina had only scored four goals compared to Northwestern’s eight. 

Despite stealing momentum away and scoring four unanswered goals midway through the second half, the Tar Heels were not able to pull out the stops necessary for the win and suffered their first loss in 29 games

On the contrary, UNC is able to dominate when they draw first blood. Eight of their 12 wins have come after UNC scored first and built solid ground to stand on. 

Even though UNC has already taken down the Tigers once this season, Clemson has won three of its last four games and will have their minds on upsetting the reigning ACC Champions. 

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It all comes down to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. 


@dthsports |