By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Winning ACC women’s lacrosse titles has become routine for powerhouse North Carolina, but the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels’ route to their sixth consecutive league title on a soggy Dorrance Field was anything but routine.
Perennial nemesis, No. 2-ranked and reigning national champion Boston College had a lot to do with that for one half with the unyielding play of Eagles goalkeeper Rachel Hall, who held the highest-scoring team in UNC program history to a season-low four first-half goals.
She was no match for the Tar Heels’ incredible third-quarter offensive assault as they rallied from a three-goal deficit with 11 consecutive goals for 16–9 victory Saturday night and their league-record 18th consecutive ACC tournament win.
Hall finally got pulled early in the fourth quarter after she was helpless to combat UNC’s improved spacing and fluid offense, although she returned minutes later.
“It’s six in a row, but I don’t want to cheapen this one, because it’s hard to get here and it’s hard to finish, especially against such a great BC team,” said UNC coach Jenny Levy, who passed Maryland’s Cathy Reese for her league-record seventh title. “I thought the adjustments we made at halftime were obviously really good and very effective.”
The Tar Heels (18–0) rallied for the second consecutive game after falling behind 5–0 in their 14–13 semifinal victory last weekend over Notre Dame. In the last 55 games, UNC is 4–2 against BC and 49–0 against all other teams.
“Our spacing offensively was so bad,” Levy said of the first-half struggles. “We just couldn’t see anything and everyone’s kind of standing around. I don’t know why we were doing what we were doing. So we just worked through it a little bit in the locker room, told people what we wanted and then we were able to execute a lot better.”
Carolina followed up a 16–15 March win at BC (16–3) after the Eagles beat UNC 11–10 in a national semifinal last season for the Tar Heels’ only defeat. The Eagles have never won an ACC title.
UNC is the top overall seed for the NCAA Tournament field, which was announced Sunday night. The Tar Heels will play their first game on Sunday, May 15 at home against the winner of Friday’s game in Chapel Hill between Virginia and Southern Cal.
“Everyone just was believing in each other, played with heart,” said record-breaking fifth-year attacker Jamie Ortega, the tournament MVP. “I’ve been crying twice, which I don’t do. I’m not emotional. But I’m just so happy we were able to win for this team and just a huge moment for us. And, hopefully, we have another championship game in a few weeks.”
Carolina has played in nine of the last 12 Final Fours but hasn’t made the championship game since winning the 2016 national title.
“I don’t get a do-over,” fifth-year attacker Scottie Rose Growney said. “So, I’m really putting my heart on the field and making sure I don’t have any regrets. Everything I’m doing is for the team to make sure we can go far.”
The Tar Heels, who had 10 of their 16 goals assisted, took control with four goals in the first 3:17 of a rainy third quarter. Fueled by Ortega’s two goals and two assists, UNC outscored BC 7–0 in the quarter after scoring with four seconds left in the first half.
“Everyone is feeding off of each other’s energy,” Ortega said of the run. “I think we were just yelling over each other because we were so excited. Just believing each other and saying, ‘Hey, you got this’ or, ‘you know what, let’s not stop.’ “
Ortega notched four goals and a championship-game-record five assists to become the ACC’s all-time leading points scorer at 451 points and Growney scored four goals. Ortega’s nine points tied the championship-game record.
Ortega could see Hall’s frustration as UNC’s run escalated.
“It’s hard because she played great against us and we had so many good shots,” Ortega. “It wasn’t like we didn’t have shots and they just weren’t falling our way. And then in the second we all flipped the mentality that we can finish. You just felt an energy shift from us and then their defense and we just feed off of that. We love that so much.”
Carolina goaltender Taylor Moreno, who had nine saves, said the whole team started feeding off the momentum during that 11-goal surge.
“As a defensive unit comes together after the offense scores, we’re usually just kind of telling ourselves, ‘all right, next time the ball is down on our end, like we’re gonna make a stop’ and ‘we’re gonna give them another opportunity,’ ” Moreno said. “We gave them enough opportunities to finally start finding the net and that was all that we needed.”
After UNC opened the scoring when Brooklyn Neumen deflected in an Ally Mastroianni shot 2½ minutes into the game, BC jumped ahead 3–1 on goals by McKenna Davis, Cassidy Weeks and Caitlynn Mossman.
Ortega slipped an unassisted goal past Hall with 4:32 left in the first quarter. After BC’s Charlotte North and UNC’s Mastroianni traded goals early in the second quarter, Belle Smith bounced a shot past Moreno.
The teams traded goals in the last 25 seconds of the first half with North scoring on a driving shot and Growney scoring at close range off of an Ortega assist with 4.4 seconds left as BC took a 6–4 halftime lead.
Ortega’s unassisted goal 1:06 into the second half started the surge. Andie Aldave (top photo) tied it at 6 less than two minutes later and goals from Mastroianni, Growney, Ortega as well as two more from Aldave made it 11–6 headed into the final quarter.
“Obviously, the first two quarters, I think we’re just trying to figure some things out,” Growney said. “BC’s defense, you know, credit to them. They were doing a really great job on us and I think once we realized that the two-man game was just really effective, we fully took advantage of that and I think that was honestly it.”
Carolina kept the scoring assault going in the fourth quarter with scores from Growney and Ortega.
Mossman’s goal ended Boston College’s 19-minute, 25-second scoring drought with 11 minutes left in the game but Growney added another score before Weeks notched another BC goal.
Caitlyn Wurzburger added the final UNC goal into an empty net.
No. 1 UNC 16, No. 2 BC 9
Photos by Jeffrey Camarati/UNC