By R.L. Bynum
CHAPEL HILL — Top-ranked North Carolina’s biggest early test early in the women’s lacrosse season just showed more evidence that the Tar Heels are again one of the best teams in the country.
After UNC (2–0) blanked No. 7 Florida in the first half, the Gators’ first scoreless half since their inaugural season 13 years ago, the contrast between the teams was evident.
Florida (1–1) put up a bit of a fight in the third quarter, but Carolina rolled to a 12–5 victory Saturday at Dorrance Field for their 43rd consecutive regular-season victory, school-record 36th straight home win and 25th win in a row.
“We play a really competitive schedule out of conference, and we do that so we can get better,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said. “Each team is going to give us something different that we’ve got to work around. And each of those games will help us learn who we are, what we need to do to be better and how we continue to refine what we’re doing on the field.”
In her first season as a full-time contributor, redshirt sophomore Reilly Casey is helping fill the void left by six multiple-season All-Americans that the Tar Heels lost off of last season’s unbeaten national champions.
After collecting only nine career points before this season, she leads Carolina with nine goals and 16 points, adding three goals and two assists against Florida. Levy said that Casey (in top photo) has put in the work and has gotten better since she first arrived in Chapel Hill by putting in the time.
“She’s learning the game,” Levy said of Casey. “Her IQ for the game is incredibly high. It’s like having another coach on the field. She’s worked on becoming more dynamic, whether she’s feeding the ball or shooting the ball. I can move her around. I can play her inside, outside, pretty much anywhere. And I’m really proud of her. She’s earned the right to be on the field playing as well as she is.”
In Casey’s first two seasons, her major role was preparing four-time All-American defender Emma Trenchard for games on the scout team in practice. That experience was probably as valuable as getting lots of playing time in games against most NCAA teams.
“Coming to Carolina, I knew it would be tough to get on the field right away,” Casey said. “But our coaches do a really good job of player development. Just being patient, working hard working on your own, pays off eventually.”
Getting on the field quickly and playing well is freshman attacker Marissa White, who is second in goals with eight after scoring twice against Florida.
“Especially at this level, this team’s so amazing in the level of play,” White said. “I’ve learned so much, and I continue to learn and get better, which is really great. And my teammates really instilled the confidence in me to play and be able to play confident and compete on the offensive end.”
White said that the team spends so much time together that gaining chemistry has come quickly.
“I think on the offensive end, we all have an equal role and really support each other,” White said. “So, it really allows you to just relax and play and have fun and do your job.”
If not for some stellar play from Florida goalie Sarah Reznick, it would have been even more one-sided, as she made a career-high 14 saves with Carolina outshooting the Gators 34–23. UNC sophomore goalie Alecia Nicholas made 10 saves.
After Reznick held UNC (3–0) to a goal in the first period, the bombardment of shots produced five second-period goals.
White took a Casey pass and buried a shot just in front of the net to give UNC the early lead 7½ minutes into the game.
After Florida’s third yellow card, Carolina got rolling with three goals in the first four minutes of the second quarter to go up 4–0. Senior attacker Melissa Sconone fired a laser by Reznick on a free-position shot, and the Heels added goals from Caitlyn Wurzburger, off of a Casey pass, and fifth-year midfielder Brooklyn Neumen.
Carolina led 6–0 at halftime after goals from Casey and freshman midfielder Kaleigh Harden.
Florida cut the lead in half with three goals in the first 3:03 of the second half, two on turnovers off center draws. Emily Heller notched an unassisted transition goal, and the Gators got two from Emma LoPinto, the second on a free-position shot.
“We have a great D unit,” Levy said of the defense that features four returnees, including Emily Nalls, who played for England in the World Championship, and Brooklyn Walker-Welch, who played for Canada in that event. “I think they’re really good. I was actually really disappointed that we gave up those three goals beginning of the third quarter for absolutely no reason.”
White ended the Gators’ run with a driving score 4½ minutes into the second half, but LoPinto added another goal nearly three minutes later. With scores from freshman attacker Kiley Mottice and Casey — the latter on an incredibly difficult angled shot few yards from the goal — UNC took a 9–4 lead headed into the fourth quarter.
Carolina added goals from Long, Casey and freshman midfielder Darcy Felter in the final quarter.
NOTES — Carolina opens ACC play at Virginia Tech at 5 p.m. Friday (ACC Network). The Hokies (1–1), who won at Richmond 14–8 and lost at home to James Madison 8–6, face Mercer at home Tuesday. The Tar Heels beat JMU 14–9. … Two Tar Heels faced their sisters Saturday: UNC Gabi Hall, whose sister Maggi plays for the Gators, and Carolina’s Ella Cabrera, whose sister Emerson plays for Florida. … The Tar Heels have scored double-figure goals in 60 times in its last 62 games. … Carolina leads the series with Florida 12–3, including 8–3 at home. … UNC’s last regular-season loss was a 9–7 setback at Notre Dame on March 31, 2019, and the Heels have the third-longest regular-season streak in NCAA history. … Carolina’s last home setback was a 14–6 loss to Boston College on March 23, 2019. … The only other time Florida has been shut out in a half was in the program’s inaugural season in 2010 when the Gators lost to Northwestern 19–5. They lost to UNC 18–5 that season.
No. 1 UNC 12, No. 4 Florida 5
|11||Saturday||14–9 W||No. 5 James Madison||Home||1–0|
|18||Saturday||12–5 W||No. 8 Florida||Home||3–0|
|24||Friday||10–6 W||Virginia Tech||Blacksburg, Va.||4–0, |
|3||Friday||16–5 W||No. 7 Boston College||Home||5–0, |
|11||Saturday||17–12 W||No. 12 Virginia||Home||6–0, |
|16||Thursday||20–7 W||Louisville||Louisville||7–0, |
|19||Sunday||13–9 L||No. 2 Northwestern||Evanston, Ill.||7–1|
|23||Thursday||22–4 W||High Point||Home||8–1|
|1||Saturday||Noon||No. 11 Notre Dame||South Bend, Ind.||ACCN|
|11||Tuesday||4 p.m.||East Carolina||Greenville||ESPN3|
|15||Saturday||Noon||No. 1 Syracuse||Home||ESPNU|
|20||Thursday||5:30 p.m.||No. 18 Duke||Durham||ESPNU|
|23||Sunday||TBA||First round||Campus sites|
Photo courtesy of UNC Athletics Communications