CHAPEL HILL – The second-ranked North Carolina women’s lacrosse team opened Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday with a 21-11 win over Virginia at Fetzer Field. After the Cavaliers closed within a goal following the an early Carolina lead and then were still within three at halftime, UNC opened the second half with an 8-0 run to put the game out of reach.
The Tar Heels improved to 6-1 overall and 1-0 in ACC play with the win, while Virginia fell to 2-4 (0-2 ACC).
“Every time we play an ACC opponent, we have tremendous respect for them and we know it’s going to be a hard game,” said UNC coach Jenny Levy. “Coming in, our focus as a team is to play for 60 minutes. We wanted to play together and we really wanted to try to be great teammates out there and try to connect on a different level than just playing the game. And I thought we did that really well.”
Senior Molly Hendrick finished the day with six goals, five of them in the second half, and now has a team-best 24 on the year. Junior Marie McCool and senior Sammy Jo Tracy scored four each and junior Ela Hazar had two to go with her team-high five assists. Junior Maggie Bill and sophomore Kara Klages added two goals each and senior Carly Reed had one.
On a sunny but chilly afternoon, the Tar Heels jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first eight minutes of play, a span during which Virginia didn’t get off a single shot. The Cavaliers’ first goal came on their first shot of the day, by Kasey Behr with just under 20 minutes to go in the half. Beginning with that goal, Virginia went on a 6-2 run, including three in a row on free position shots, to pull within one at 7-6 with 7:20 to play in the half.
The Tar Heels responded with three goals in a row, including a stealth, behind-the-back shot by Hendrick that’s destined for the season highlights video. “She works on that in practice and she’s got the green light to shoot it if she’s got the time and space, which she did,” Levy said. “We promote and teach creativity on the offensive end, so seeing something like that show up on a game day is really exciting. Hopefully it inspires the next generation of lacrosse players, who can see something like that and say, ‘Oh, I want to be like her.’ It was a great time, great place and we celebrated that.”
Leading 10-7 at halftime, UNC focused on cutting down on fouls in the second half and not presenting Virginia the opportunity to score on free position shots. After capitalizing on four of their six chances in the first half, the Cavaliers took just one free position shot after halftime, scoring on it with four seconds remaining in the game.
As UNC made defensive stops, the Tar Heels also rolled on offense. Reed’s goal opened the scoring a minute into the period, and Carolina got seven more before Kelly Reese halted the UVa drought at the 12:43 mark. Reese and Lilly DiNardo finished with three each to lead the Cavaliers, who scored three times in the final six minutes of play, after starting goalkeeper Caylee Waters had left the game.
“It was really important to the team and the coaching staff that we stayed sharp through the second half,” Levy said. “I thought with the depth that we play, we were starting to wear them down and create some more opportunities for ourselves on the offensive end.”
Next up for UNC is a non-conference home game on Tuesday, when Elon visits for a 6 p.m. matchup. The Tar Heels continue their four-game homestand when Northwestern visits on March 19, and Boston College comes to town for an ACC matchup on March 25.