North Carolina Bests Scrappy Stony Brook, Advances to Championship Weekend


CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Throughout a season filled with double-digit victories and record-breaking performances, the North Carolina women’s lacrosse team seemed accustomed to only one familiarity — dominance.

But on Thursday night, playing on its home field in an NCAA quarterfinal bout against Stony Brook, the same team that led UNC by two goals late on the same stage a year ago, the Tar Heels were a little over one quafter away from all the accolades being for naught as the team trailed by a goal.

When the obstacle grew larger and larger as time trickled down at Dorrance Field, however, North Carolina’s experienced leaders had other plans.

After trailing late in the third period, two goals and an assist from graduate transfer Andie Aldave and a dominant goalkeeping display from goalkeeper Taylor Moreno helped the Tar Heels continue their undefeated season and march to their fourth consecutive Final Four with a grueling 8-5 win.

“I think it was a good test for us,” Moreno said. “I would rather have a hard game and challenging game than a breeze-through one, so I thought this was huge for us in terms of continuing to improve and get better as a team.”

Although the circumstances weren’t as dire this time around — the Tar Heels eclipsed the Seawolves with over 15 minutes to play, opposed to when only 4:19 remained last May — the memorable feeling of trailing late against an old opponent weighed heavily on the team’s mind.

Moreno’s wrist tape read ‘Win or go home.’ Players darted across the field and leveled up to the Seawolves’ physicality and withstood the 22 fouls that came their way.

They weren’t ready for their season to be over.

“We tried to stay poised and confident in each other and communicating and not trying to be heroes by yourself, but staying with it and playing team ball,” head coach Jenny Levy said.

Despite being the top-ranked team in the country, North Carolina should have expected a number of challenges entering the contest. Stony Brook’s patented zone defense came to Chapel Hill boasting the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense, holding opponents to under seven goals per game.

Just days after a 24-2 drubbing over Virginia, UNC, the top scoring offense in the country, was stymied to a season-low four goals in the first half. Even though the Tar Heels ultimately pulled away in the fourth period, the numbers weren’t much better after the break, as the team could only tack on four more.

As the stout defense knocked down interior passes and forced the Tar Heels to make a series of adjustments after each timeout, the most rewarding change came when Aldave shifted her positioning to take advantage of the middle of the field. After relocating to her new spot, she found cracks in the zone, and ultimately, the back of the net for two of the team’s late goals.

“We were playing with the rover in their zone; we were trying to play opposite of her and avoid her a little bit,” Aldave said. “We started to dodge a little bit more and attack and carry the zones, and it started opening up the middle, and it was a lot less crowded in the fourth quarter.”

On a night when the offense was mostly held in check, the defense rose to the task on multiple occasions.

After Stony Brook’s Jaden Hampel whizzed into the net for back-to-back goals to help the Seawolves gain the lead in the first half, Moreno settled in and finished with 10 timely saves to anchor a back line that eliminated a number of potent scoring opportunities.

“It starts with her [Moreno] with the big saves and kicking it out into transition,” Aldave said. “The defense played awesome tonight — they carried us through the game.”

For the second straight year, history repeated itself. The Tar Heels ended the Seawolves’ season on Dorrance Field, displaying the resiliency that has catapulted them to a 20-0 mark.

But when the team heads to Baltimore to make its championship run next weekend, UNC will be focused on writing a new chapter. Following three consecutive defeats in the national semifinals, the Tar Heels have their eyes set on overcoming the program’s recent shortcomings on the sport’s most illuminated theater.

“There are things we can work on and improve on, but we’re being better at celebrating the wins,” Moreno said. “This year and this team is certainly approaching that differently, and that’s giving me a lot of hope and confidence heading into this Final Four.”


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