The No. 4 North Carolina women's lacrosse team (16-5) fell short in the hard-fought battle against the 5-seed Denver (22-0), 5-4, during the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill on Thursday afternoon.
A slow start for the Tar Heels did not stop them from coming out on top in the first quarter.
Denver's quick goal came with help from their ecstatic fan base, casting a blanket of neon pink hats across the bleachers. The continued aggressiveness of the Pioneers paid off as they forced UNC into two early turnovers.
With six minutes left in the quarter, Denver was still up 1-0, and the Tar Heels could not find a way to break through the Pioneer defense. Continuing to play heavy on the left side, UNC used the shot clock to their advantage, finally feeding the ball to junior Alyssa Long for a goal. In two minutes, it was followed by an assist from senior Olivia Dirks to redshirt sophomore Reilly Casey to take the lead 2-1 at the end of the first.
Denver's unique zone play caused some trouble for the UNC offense, resulting in seven turnovers in the first half. The Tar Heels responded to this by taking advantage of every set play, earning goal number three with an assist from junior Caitlyn Wurzburger off of the first free position opportunity of the match. Her sly pass allowed first-year Marissa White to go in strong for the goal.
Denver had their first shot of the half with seven minutes left, but the veteran UNC defense led a three-on-one play to regain possession. Continuing their extraordinary passing technique, they got the ball to Casey, who, with a quick cut, scored her second goal.
The Pioneers went 27 minutes without a goal but finished the quarter strong. Graduate student Kayla DeRose gained possession after a missed shooting space shot by Addie Caulk. Her breakaway play led to Denver's fourth shot and second goal of the match with one minute left.
With one more chance in the half for Denver, sophomore Alecia Nicholas came up big for UNC with a huge save to keep the margin of two goals going into the second half.