By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina is back in the women’s lacrosse Final Four but, for the second consecutive season, Stony Brook and its vexing zone defense didn’t make it easy.
Just like in last year’s quarterfinals, the undefeated, No. 1-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels (20–0) had to rally against the Seawolves to keep their season alive.
UNC rebounded from the lowest-scoring half of the season (three first-half goals) and used a four-goal second-half run to advance Thursday at Dorrance Field. The Tar Heels’ 8–5 NCAA tournament quarterfinal victory over the No. 7-ranked Seawolves (16–3) was their 33rd consecutive home win.
Attacker Andie Aldave (top photo) led the way with three goals and an assist and the game’s only two fourth-quarter scores.
“It’s never going to be easy in your road to the Final Four,” said Aldave, a graduate student who transferred from Notre Dame. “They really had nothing to lose and credit to them. They’re a great team. And I think they kind of gave us what we needed today going into the Final Four. It wasn’t easy. But I think, for us, it really pushed us and it was some adversity, and for us to kind of come through that on top was awesome.”
It was Carolina’s lowest scoring output of the season after previously scoring 14 goals twice.
“We’re not surprised that they came in feisty,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said of Stony Brook. “The zone shifted a little bit from what we’d seen on film. It took us a little bit to shift for that.”
In the Tar Heels’ 13th Final Four trip and 10th in the last 13 years, they will try to advance to their first NCAA championship game since winning the second of their two national championships in 2016.
UNC lost to Boston College in its last two national semifinals appearances in 2019 and 2021 but this time will meet No. 4-seed Northwestern at 3 p.m. Friday, May 27 (ESPNU) in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field in the semifinals. The Wildcats beat the Orange on Thursday 15–4.
The No. 3-seed Eagles knocked off No. 6-seed Loyola Maryland 20–13 and will face No. 2-seed Maryland in the other national semifinal. The Terps ousted No. 7-seed Florida 18–5.
A year ago, UNC rallied from an 11–9 deficit with 7:30 left to beat Stony Brook 14–11 in the quarterfinals, and the Tar Heels faced adversity against the Seawolves again.
Dealing with their zone in a sport where few teams play it was made tougher by a couple of questionable charge calls against Aldave.
“I don’t know. I tried to have a short memory with stuff like that,” Aldave said. “It might have been a charge, it might not have been. For me, it was just short memory, next play, and I think that helped us in the end.”
Levy said that the zone overloaded the ball side so that when players were open, it was still hard for the Tar Heels to get them the ball.
“You’ve got to move the ball and have the courage to put the ball inside,” Levy said. “And then you’ve got to have the courage to shoot, which Andie did, and then gets a charge call because someone’s sliding up and into her blind side.”
Levy clearly wasn’t happy with the way the game was officiated.
“I don’t think they were ready to officiate this type of game tonight, I will tell you that,” Levy said. “You’re playing against a zone that slides up and into you and we’re getting called for charges. That’s crazy.”
When the offense was sputtering in the first half, goalkeeper Taylor Moreno (20–0) made a couple of huge saves, and she made some point-blank second-half stops. She knew the challenge when Carolina couldn’t generate offense.
“Defensively, as a unit, we understand that we’re going to be the ones who are going to have to come up with the stops and the momentum shifts for those guys,” said Moreno, who finished with 10 saves.
“It’s just a matter of staying locked in, staying focused, not necessarily letting the kind of excitement going on in the attacking end affect us. So, we’re kind of trying to remain composed,” Moreno said.
She was a big reason why Stony Brook was scoreless for the last 20:35 of the game.
Stony Brook’s Ellie Masera scored the game’s first goal nearly four minutes into the game, and Brooklyn Neumen tied it with nearly six minutes later on a free-position shot.
UNC took the lead with 4:47 left in the first when Scottie Rose Growney passed from behind the goal to Sam Greiersbach to score at close range. Another goal off of a free-position shot, this one from Taylor Warehime, pushed UNC’s lead to 3–1 with 12:19 left in the first half.
The Seawolves tied it on a pair of unassisted Jaden Hampel goals before Siobhan Rafferty gave them a 4–3 halftime lead on a goal with 27.9 seconds left.
Carolina made some adjustments at halftime that seemed to create more offensive opportunities.
“I think we started to dodge a little bit more and attack the zone and again it started opening up the middle and it was a lot less crowded in the fourth quarter,” Aldave said.
Griersbach tied it on a tough-angle shot from the right of the goal with 11:06 left in the third period.
Stony Brook retook the lead on another Masera goal six minutes later. Shortly after Aldave was denied a goal on a questionable charge call, she scored on a free-position shot to tie it at 5 with 2:18 left in the third.
Caitlyn Wurzburger capped a flurry in front of the goal with a score in the final second of the third quarter to give UNC its first lead since early in the second quarter. Jamie Ortega fed Aldave with 11:58 remaining in the game to put the Tar Heels up 7–5.
Aldave put the game away on a goal off of a Geiersbach feed with 1:51 remaining.
No. 1 UNC 8, No. 7 Stony Brook 5
Photos courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications