CHAPEL HILL – The UNC women’s lacrosse team persevered its way to a 17-12 victory over No. 13 Northwestern Sunday afternoon at Fetzer Field, finally putting away the Wildcats late in the second half of the nonconference battle. The Tar Heels trailed or were tied much of the way and didn’t lead by more than a goal until Ela Hazar scored with 12:41 to play put the Tar Heels ahead 12-10 en route to the win.
The second-ranked Tar Heels improved to 8-1 with the win, while Northwestern fell to 3-5.
UNC junior Maggie Bill tied career bests in goals (4) and assists (3) to establish a new career high with seven points. Junior Marie McCool also had four goals, and the Tar Heels got hat tricks from Hazar and senior Sydney Holman. Molly Hendrick, Carly Reed and Sammy Jo Tracy had a goal each in the win.
“We didn’t think this was going to be anything other than what it was, which was a back-and-forth game,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said. “Northwestern is a good team. They’re well-coached, they play with a lot of fire, they came in with great strategies to counter what we do well, and they have plenty of pieces on the field to be really good.
“We stuck with the game plan and trusted and believed and stayed positive through things that were imperfect, and that’s how you eventually chip away at what’s going on.”
Hazar opened the scoring just 26 seconds in, on a pass from Holman. But the Tar Heel lead was short-lived as Northwestern tied the score 24 seconds later, and then went on to take a 2-1 lead. After that, the game was a tug-of-war throughout the half, with the Wildcats twice leading by two, but UNC never further ahead than a goal. The teams were tied four times in the first half before the Tar Heels edged ahead to take a 7-6 halftime lead.
Northwestern quickly tied it up after the break and then regained the lead with two quick goals. Again, the advantage seesawed. NU’s Liza Elder scored her second goal of the game to make it 10-10 with 17 minutes to play and the score was tied there for almost four minutes, until Tracy put the Tar Heels up for good and did so with flair. Her between-the-legs shot with 13:20 to play beat NU goalkeeper Mallory Weisse and gave UNC a lead that would continue to grow.
Back-to-back goals by Hazar and another by Bill made the advantage four, 14-10, before the Wildcats scored again. The Tar Heels then scored a string of three more – by Reed, Bill and McCool – before a late NU goal made the final 17-12.
“Maggie Bill had a big day today,” Levy said of her two-sport Tar Heel. “She’s continuing to get better coming off soccer and continuing to find her stride. We had a great effort offensively – seven threats on the field at all times.”
UNC led 33-25 in shots, but trailed 17-14 in draw controls, with a greater deficit early in the game. Northwestern won nine of 14 in the first half and then came up with the first three in the second half before the Tar Heels finally got rolling. In the end, UNC led 9-8 in second-half draws, and McCool led the Tar Heels with six for the day.
While it wasn’t exactly a relaxing game for the Tar Heel coaches, Levy knows her team grows from wins like this one. “When you have games that challenge you in a lot of different ways through the course of 60 minutes, it’s something you can build upon later in the season and say ‘We’ve been here before,’” she said. “You’ve got to dig your cleats in and play a full 60 minutes both mentally and physically. Even though the score had a pretty good differential at the end, it didn’t feel that way. The game felt pretty close all the way through.”
Next up for UNC is the fourth in a four-game homestand, on Saturday against Boston College. The Atlantic Coast Conference matchup is set for a 2:15 p.m. start.