By R.L. Bynum
North Carolina’s pursuit of the program’s third women’s lacrosse national title begins Sunday with a hungry team intent on getting past the national semifinals.
The No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels, the only undefeated team in the country at 18–0, play at Dorrance Field on Sunday at noon (ESPN+) against the winner of Friday’s 5 p.m. first-round game in Chapel Hill between Virginia (9–9) and Southern Cal (13–4). UNC beat the Cavaliers 17–7 on the road on April 14.
UNC won its sixth consecutive ACC Tournament title Saturday night by rallying from a three-goal, first-half deficit with 11 consecutive goals to beat reigning national champion Boston College 16–9. The Eagles (16–3) ended UNC’s NCAA run last season with an 11–10 semifinal victory.
Coach Jenny Levy said that it will be easy to move on from the ACC title and focus on making an NCAA run, particularly with the memory of how it ended a year ago.
“We’ve been in this situation quite a bit, and not that we take that for granted. This team has fallen short on Memorial Day weekend,” Levy said, acknowledging that every game in every round will be hard. “We’ve got to get through that. But we’re looking forward to it. This team really enjoys being together and they know our work is far from done.”
Fifth-year senior attacker Scottie Rose Growney has won four ACC championships but has never played in an NCAA championship game. She’s determined to change that.
“It’s my last year; I don’t get another do-over,” said Growney, who is second on the team with 50 goals and 67 points. “I’m really putting my heart on the field and making sure that I don’t have any regrets. Everything that I’m doing is for the team and to make sure that we can go far and get the championship weekend.”
The Tar Heels lost to the Eagles 15–14 in OT in the 2019 semifinals and there was no tournament in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
The roster is full of veterans, all eager to win a national championship for the first time, including attackers Jamie Ortega (senior with a team-leading 60 goals, 38 assists and 98 points) and Andi Aldave (a graduate student with 44 goals, 53 points), midfielder Ally Mastroianni (a graduate student with 40 goals, 48 points) and goaltender Taylor Moreno (a graduate student who started all 18 games and led the ACC in goals-against average at 8.58 and save percentage at 49.1%).
“Winning the ACC is obviously a huge goal and we’ve accomplished that but we want to get the championship weekend and get past the semifinals because that’s something that we haven’t done yet,” Growney said.
Should UNC win Sunday, it would advance to another home game on Thursday, May 19 against either Rutgers (15–4), Saint Joseph’s (14–6), Drexel (12–7) or Stony Brook (14–2).
If UNC and BC meet again in this year’s NCAA tournament, it would be in the championship game.
Last season, three ACC teams — UNC, BC and Syracuse — made the Final Four, and it’s certainly possible that multiple league teams could advance this year when it’s played on May 27 and 29 at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Boston College is the No. 3 seed and also gets a first-round bye. In addition to Virginia, Duke, No. 5-seed Syracuse and Notre Dame also are in the field.
It’s the 17th consecutive NCAA appearance and 23rd overall for the Tar Heels, who won NCAA titles in 2013 and 2016.
In ACC awards announced Tuesday, Ortega won Attacker of the Year, Mastroianni Midfielder of the Year, Emma Trenchard won Defender of the Year and Levy won Coach of the Year.
NCAA tournament bracket
Photo by Jeffrey Camarati/UNC