Mission Accomplished: UNC Women’s Lacrosse Defeats Maryland for National Championship

Facing a Maryland squad that had won back-to-back national championships–and won their last 26 games–it would have been easy for the No. 3 UNC women’s lacrosse team to be a bit intimidated.

The Tar Heels were never fazed, though, as they handily defeated the No. 1 Terrapins 13-7 in Sunday’s NCAA Championship Game at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.

It’s the second national title in program history for UNC (21-2), which clinched the rubber match in the third championship meeting between the two schools over the last four years.

Senior attacker Aly Messinger tallied two goals and a career-high four assists to help the Tar Heels hand Maryland (22-1) its first loss since May 1, 2015.

Aly Messinger was an offensive force against the Terrapins, dishing out a career-high four assists in the first half. Her passing helped UNC go on a 6-0 run early in the game. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Aly Messinger was an offensive force against the Terrapins, dishing out a career-high four assists in the first half. Her passing helped UNC go on a 6-0 run early in the game. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Molly Hendrick added three goals for UNC, while Sammy Jo Tracy, Ela Hazar and Carly Reed each chipped in two.

The Tar Heels’ most important player, however, was senior goalie Megan Ward, who recovered in the best possible way after being benched in the first half of the team’s semifinal win over Penn State–a game where she allowed five goals on five shots.

Against the Terrapins, Ward was lights out. She saved a career-high 14 shots while limiting Maryland, which scores an average of nearly 16 times per game, to a season-low seven goals.

As impressive as she played, it wasn’t just Ward that was incredible defensively for the Tar Heels.

The UNC defenders combined to hold Maryland midfielder Taylor Cummings–a two-time Tewaaraton Award winner as the nation’s best player–to just a single goal.

The Tar Heels were simply too much for their opponents in every aspect of the game.

Despite scoring first, the Terrapins fell victim to the precise passing of Messinger and the Tar Heel offense the rest of the way.

Looking like former NBA point guard Steve Nash in his prime–dishing the ball all over the yard– Messinger had each of her four assists during a 20-minute first-half stretch. In that time, UNC scored the next six goals to go ahead 6-1.

Senior goalie Megan Ward made a career-high 14 saves in the National Championship Game. This after being benched in UNC's semifinal win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Senior goalie Megan Ward made a career-high 14 saves in the National Championship Game. This after being benched in UNC’s semifinal win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

For a brief period, it appeared as if Maryland had enough fight left to claw back from the biggest deficit it had faced all season.

The Terrapins unleashed a quick flurry of goals before halftime to make it 6-4, then later pulled within 7-6 early in the second half.

But the Tar Heels snuffed out the comeback with goals from Reed and Messinger within 15 seconds of one another–a sequence which kick-started a late 5-0 run that put the finishing touches on the finest season in the program’s history.

Each team would score only once more during the final 10 minutes, as the Tar Heels–just like in Friday’s win–were content to play stall-ball until the clock hit triple zeroes.

The result this time, though, was a national championship.

Game Notes:

  • UNC’s senior class ended their freshman year with a 2013 national title win over Maryland, and closed their careers in the same fashion.
  • Tar Heel senior midfielder Kelly Devlin was ejected from the game in the first half for picking up two yellow cards.
  • Maryland defeated UNC 8-7 in the regular season on Feb. 27–which is still the Tar Heels’ last loss. The Terrapins also hold a 9-8 victory over UNC in last year’s NCAA Final.




Carly Reed Lifts UNC Women’s Lax Past Penn State, Into Title Game

Just over a minute into Friday’s NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Semifinal between No. 3 UNC and the Penn State Nittany Lions, Tar Heel midfielder Carly Reed received a pass from teammate Aly Messinger and put it in the back of the net.

That was simply foreshadowing for what was to come.

The junior from Alexandria, Virginia ended up scoring five times, as UNC survived a late Penn State rally to win by a score of 12-11–lifting head coach Jenny Levy’s Tar Heels to their second straight National Championship Game appearance, and third in the last four seasons.

Aly Messinger scored two goals and had two assists in UNC's win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Aly Messinger scored two goals and had two assists in UNC’s win over Penn State. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

By holding off the pesky Nittany Lions (14-7), UNC (19-2) also set a school record with its 16 straight win.

Aly Messinger (two goals, two assists) and Marie McCool (one goal, three assists) each contributed four points to the Tar Heel cause, while Sammy Jo Tracy scored the team’s final two goals midway through the second half.

Despite leading 12-7 with just under 15 minutes to play following Tracy’s second goal, the Tar Heels had already allowed Penn State to pull off a 5-0 run earlier in the game.

UNC scored its first three goals before the Nittany Lions responded by finding the back of the net on each of their first five shots.

A switch at goalie–from Megan Ward to Caylee Waters–and a motivated performance by Reed swung momentum back over to the Tar Heels.

In the ten minutes leading up to halftime, Reed scored three consecutive goals. Waters’ effort in the net held Penn State to just one goal during that span–giving UNC a 7-6 lead at the break.

Momentum stayed with The Tar Heels as they exploded out of the locker room for five goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half–including another by Reed–while holding their opponents to just one.

Not wanting to go down without a fight, however, the Nittany Lions roared back by scoring four straight times over the next eight minutes.

Defender Abby Smucker led Penn State’s final run by notching a pair of goals, but the effort was snuffed out when UNC fell into a “prevent” offense of sorts.

The Tar Heels return to the National Championship for the third time in four years, hoping to repeat their success from 2013. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

The Tar Heels return to the National Championship for the third time in four years, hoping to repeat their success from 2013. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Their lead cut to just a single tally, the Tar Heels–who already run a patient attack centered around ball movement–unleashed the lacrosse equivalent of Dean Smith’s “Four Corners” offense over the final 7:18.

For nearly six minutes they played keep away from the Penn State defenders, never once appearing interested in taking a shot.

By the time they finally got the ball back, the Nittany Lions were only able to manage one more shot before the clock ran out.

UNC regained possession with 45 seconds left–then held on to lock up yet another trip to the season’s final game, a place they’ve become quite familiar with.

Up Next:

The National Championship game is scheduled for noon on Sunday, with UNC taking on the winner between No. 1 Maryland and No. 4 Syracuse.

Game Notes:

  • Penn State held UNC’s leading scorer, Molly Hendrick, to just one goal. She has 56 in the Tar Heels’ 21 games.
  • The Tar Heels haven’t lost since Feb. 27, when they fell 8-7 to top-ranked Maryland at home.
  • Waters saved eight of the 14 shots she faced after entering the game in goal for UNC midway through the first half.





UNC Women’s Lacrosse Final Four Bound After 10-6 Win Over Notre Dame

Facing a Notre Dame team that averages nearly 14 goals per game, the No. 3 UNC women’s lacrosse team locked down defensively Saturday to knock off the No. 6 Fighting Irish 10-6 at Fetzer Field in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals.

With the win, the Tar Heels (18-2) advance to next weekend’s Final Four in Philadelphia–making their second straight appearance in the semifinals, and third in the last four seasons.

The duo of Marie McCool and Molly Hendrick–who were each recently named First Team All-Americans–combined for half of UNC’s scoring against Notre Dame (14-7).

Two of McCool’s three goals came during the final 30 minutes, while Hendrick scored once during each half.

Five other players chipped in a goal to the Tar Heel cause, as UNC displayed a brilliant offensive attack–passing the ball brilliantly to avoid a physical Fighting Irish team that likes to defend by poking the ball out from behind.

Molly Hendrick scored two of UNC's 10 goals on Saturday, as the Tar Heels advanced to Philadelphia for the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

Molly Hendrick scored two of UNC’s 10 goals on Saturday, as the Tar Heels advanced to Philadelphia for the Final Four. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/ UNC Athletics)

As good as UNC was on offense, though, it was its defense that stole the show–much like it did in their 14-8 win over Notre Dame on April 3.

After taking a 6-4 lead into the break, UNC stormed out of the locker room and suffocated the Fighting Irish attack.

The Tar Heels still continued to score as well, building a  10-5 lead over the next 27 minutes.

Notre Dame’s Kiera McMullan scored the game’s final goal with under three minutes remaining, but the outcome was no longer in doubt.

McMullan was one of just two Fighting Irish players–along with Cortney Fortunato–to find the back of the net twice.

It was a script similar to their win over Duke in the previous round for the Tar Heels. They built a slim lead after a competitive first half before, holding their opponent to just two goals in the second half.

In each game, UNC was clearly the more dominant, well-rounded, team–displaying a solid mix of offense and defense that its opponents simply haven’t been able to match.

Their reward?

A chance to make some noise at the Final Four in Philly, against the three best teams the nation has to offer.

Up Next:

The Tar Heels will play Penn State in their National Semifinal game on Friday, May 27.

Game Notes:

  • UNC has trailed for just 58 seconds in its two NCAA Tournament games so far. Notre Dame took a 2-1 lead early in the first half Saturday, but Aly Messinger scored on the next possession to tie it up for the Tar Heels.
  • It’s the ninth appearance all-time in the Final Four for UNC’s women’s lacrosse program.





Five Tar Heels Named Women’s Lax All-Americans

Five members of the UNC women’s lacrosse team have been named to the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association All-America teams, which were announced Wednesday.

Molly Hendrick and Marie McCool earned first-team honors. Mallory Frysinger, Aly Messinger and Sammy Jo Tracy were named to the second-team.

UNC was tied with Maryland, the top-ranked team in the country throughout the season, with the most players named All-American.

Third-seeded UNC is preparing to host No. 6 Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday afternoon.


Women’s Lax: No. 3 UNC Sends Duke Packing, Moves to NCAA Quarters

Looking to turn its recently-earned ACC Championship into something more, the No. 3 UNC women’s lacrosse team first had to take care of an old rival in its NCAA Tournament opener.

The Tar Heels showed no signs of being intimidated however, turning up the heat in the second half of their 15-10 win over the Duke Blue Devils at Fetzer Field on Sunday.

Duke played UNC tight in the Tar Heels’ 7-6 win in the ACC Tournament back on April 29, but the Blue Devils weren’t able to hang around for all 60 minutes this time.

Not once during the game did UNC (17-2) trail the Blue Devils (11-9), as junior Molly Hendrick poured in four goals to help lead a dominant offensive showing by the home team.

Sammy Jo Tracy added three goals and two assists to the Tar Heel cause, while Aly Messinger, Carly Reed and Ela Hazar each found the back of the net twice.

Aly Messinger had two goals against Duke in the NCAA Tournament, including one during UNC's second half surge. (TheACC.com)

Aly Messinger had two goals against Duke in the NCAA Tournament, including one during UNC’s second half surge. (TheACC.com)

Each of Hazar’s goals came during a deciding run after halftime, where UNC turned its slim, 9-8 lead into a comfortable victory.

Just 10 minutes was all the Tar Heels needed in the second half to build a 12-9 advantage–which was their largest lead of the day.

The goals kept on coming over the next ten minutes, with UNC eventually going ahead 14-9 before Duke scored another.

Reed then put the finishing touches on the Tar Heels’ effort by scoring their 15th–and final–goal.

No scoring by either side occurred over the final 11 minutes.

UNC was more than happy to sit on the lead after a back-and-forth first half where it failed to break free, and surrendered hat tricks to Duke’s Grace Fallon and Kelci Smesko.

Fallon and Smesko each scored once more in the second half–finishing with four goals apiece–but the Blue Devil offense ran dry due to a lack of other options.

The Tar Heel women now join their male lacrosse counterparts in the NCAA Quarterfinals, just one win away from their fifth appearance in the Final Four in the last seven seasons.

Up Next:

Awaiting UNC is the No. 6 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The quarterfinals are scheduled to be played on May 21 and 22, with game times not yet determined.

Game Notes:

  • Hendrick’s first goal for UNC was her 50th of the season. By the end of the game her total was up to 53.
  • UNC had a slight edge over Duke in ground-ball pickups, leading 16-14 in that category.





UNC Women’s Lax No. 3 Seed in NCAA Tournament

The UNC women’s lacrosse teams is one of the top seeds in the nation heading to the NCAA Tournament. The bracket was released on Sunday night.

The women’s team is coming off of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and tournament championships and will be the No. 3 overall seed. UNC received a bye in the first round of play. The Tar Heels will await the winner of the Duke – Loyola (Maryland) game that is scheduled to take place at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill at five o’clock on Friday. UNC will then take on the winner at one o’clock on Sunday afternoon.

UNC head coach Jenny Levy, who was recently named ACC Coach of the Year, said in a statement on Sunday that the Tar Heels will be ready for tournament play.

“This time of year is so much fun, this is what you work for all year and so we are excited and look forward to start the NCAA Tournament,” the statement from Levy read. “One of our goals each year is to earn a top four seed, and now the work begins. The competition will be tough regardless of who we play, and we look forward to hosting Duke or Loyola on Sunday at Fetzer Field.”

This is the 12th consecutive year and 18th time in the program’s 21-year history that the Tar Heels have earned a spot in the tournament field.

Tickets for this weekend’s games in Chapel Hill are available through the university’s website.


Jenny Levy Named ACC Coach Of The Year

UNC women’s lacrosse head coach Jenny Levy has been named the 2016 ACC Coach of the Year.

This is the fourth time Levy has won the award, dating back to 1997, with her most recent before this year being 2010.

Levy led the Tar Heels to a 16-2 record, currently riding a 13-game winning streak.

The 3rd-ranked Tar Heels have only lost to top-ranked Maryland and No. 2 Florida. Both losses were by one goal.

The reigning ACC Tournament champions have received an automatic qualification for the NCAA Tournament. Seeds will be announced Sunday.


UNC Women’s Lacrosse Remain No. 3, Men Fall to No. 13

A win in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament was not enough to move the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team up in the latest Inside Lacrosse rankings.

UNC still sits at No. 3, behind Maryland and Florida – which happen to be the only two teams that beat the Tar Heels during the regular season.

UNC has won 13 games in a row since the back-to-back losses to Florida and Maryland in late February, going undefeated through the conference regular season. UNC won the ACC Tournament on the strength of a pair of one-goal victories over Duke and Syracuse.

Syracuse is fifth in the new polls and the narrow loss to Carolina in the ACC semifinals actually vaulted Duke three spots in the rankings to No. 14.

Meanwhile, the UNC men’s lacrosse team fell three spots to No. 13 in the latest poll after losing to Syracuse in the ACC Tournament semifinals.

Carolina was the top seed in the tournament, after knocking off Notre Dame when the Fighting Irish were the top-ranked team in the country. Syracuse went on to defeat Duke in the conference title game.

Up next for both squads is the NCAA Tournament. The women’s team is automatically in the field after winning the conference title. The men will learn their fate on May 8 during the NCAA Tournament selection show.


UNC Women’s Lax Wins ACC Title in OT

A sudden-death overtime goal from Aly Messinger clinched the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the UNC women’s lacrosse team on Sunday.

The top-seeded Tar Heels knocked off No. 2 seed Syracuse by a 15-14 score in the championship match.

UNC has now won 13 straight contests after going through the ACC regular season slate undefeated.

Carolina needed a late 3-0 scoring run to beat rival Duke 7-6 in the ACC semifinal. Another one-goal margin against Syracuse was enough for the ACC title.

The game Sunday was a back-and-forth battle. Syracuse led by three goals in the first half before UNC tied the game up at six. The score was 7-7 at the half. Syracuse stretched its lead to three once again in the second half at 11-8. UNC trailed throughout the majority of the game but was able to tie it up at 13 with less than two minutes remaining.

Even in the limited time left in regulation, the scoring wasn’t over.

Carolina took its first lead of the second half at 14-13 with 36 seconds left in game, but Syracuse was able to answer with time winding down to force the game into overtime, where the Messinger goal secured the title for the Tar Heels.


UNC Women’s Lacrosse Beats Duke in ACC Semifinal

A 3-0 scoring run over the final 15 minutes of the game led UNC women’s lacrosse to a 7-6 win over Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament on Friday evening.

The top-seeded Tar Heels fell behind early as No. 4 seed Duke opened the game with three consecutive goals in the first four minutes of action. But a two-goal, one-assist performance from Marie McCool led UNC to the comeback victory.

The victory was the 12th in a row for UNC as the Tar Heels advanced to 15-2 on the season.

In addition to McCool, five Tar Heels scored single goals.

The win in the ACC semifinal sends Carolina to the title game for the sixth time in the last seven years and the 10th time overall.

UNC will take on second-seeded Syracuse in the title game at one o’clock Sunday afternoon.