Nothing to Lose: Once Questioning Her Fit, Sam Geiersbach Thriving at North Carolina

Sam Geiersbach was a star at Richmond. She led the Spiders with 66 goals as a freshman and came back from a torn ACL in 2019 and tallied 88 points. But after posting 23 goals and 19 assists in 10 games during her fifth year, Geiersbach decided it was time for a change. She entered the transfer portal and landed at North Carolina.

When Geiersbach stepped on the field at fall ball, she wasn’t the star. The already-packed attack included 2021 Tewaaraton Award finalist Jamie Ortega, emerging star Caitlyn Wurzburger and Scottie Rose Growney, who scored 46 goals in 2022. Oh, and the Tar Heels also brought in All-American Andie Aldave from Notre Dame.

“It was very intimidating,” Geiersbach admitted. “I told myself, ‘Sam, just go to UNC. It’s for the experience … it’s OK if you don’t play. These girls are that good.’”

The team welcomed her with open arms. Geiersbach describes Ortega as one of the nicest, funniest teammates she’s ever had. Her roommate, Aldave, helped her get used to the rigors of being an ACC student-athlete on and off the field. But through the fall, Geiersbach seemed to be heading toward a self-fulfilling prophecy: She wasn’t happy with how she was playing, and it felt like she wasn’t going to see the light of day come February.

Geiersbach hit up Jenna Slowley, who had been an assistant coach at Richmond before getting hired for the same role at Notre Dame. The conversation changed everything.

“She said, ‘Yeah, you don’t have to play as much, but don’t settle for that. You can play, so try for it,’” Geiersbach said.

Geiersbach shifted her perspective and routine. She worked out with her old trainer, Andrew Smith, the brother of all-time Northwestern great and current Hofstra coach Shannon Smith. They focused on her dodges and catching her up to the faster pace of ACC lacrosse.

“I really went for it,” Geiersbach said. “Winter break was a turning point for me. Coming back after winter break, I put it all out there. I had nothing to lose ... I also realized this is going to be my last year. This is really it. There will be no more seventh year. That gave me a push, too.”

“When I think Sam Geiersbach, I think of sunshine.”

— Jenny Levy

It’s paid off. Geiersbach isn’t a starter, but she’s been a valuable role player off the bench for a UNC team that will have a chance to play for a national title this weekend. She has tallied 54 points on 29 goals and 25 assists and embraced her role as one of several threats on a versatile offense.

“I think it’s nice for her not to have to carry the load and just play off what is out there,” head coach Jenny Levy said.

Geiersbach would agree. She sees her role as someone who can drag defenders away from people like Ortega or take the pressure off the record-breaking superstar.

“I think less,” Geiersbach said. “At Richmond, I had to think all the time. That was great. I loved being a leader there in a different way. I loved everything about that place and my role there. At UNC, I told myself, ‘Don’t think as much. Just play with what is in front of you.’”

But it’s not just what’s in front of her. Who is behind her has also lifted Geiersbach.

“We were on a call with alumni and donors, and I just felt the support from that community,” she said. “It was overwhelming in a great way knowing how many people have our back.”

The Tar Heels aren’t just stacked with talented players, but leaders, too. Geiersbach has found her own voice, and that voice is constantly reminding her teammates of how lucky they are to wear the Carolina blue.

“Sam said to me the other day, ‘This place is amazing. You’ve got unbelievable facilities, the support here, the academics, it’s beautiful,’” Levy said. “It’s fun for other guys to hear that they are in a special place and can have success as a student, as an athlete and as a human being.”

They’re not just empty words. Geiersbach brings that grateful attitude to every game and practice — it’s like her superpower.

“When I think Sam Geiersbach, I think of sunshine,” Levy said. “In all the pictures from all the games this year … she is celebrating, she is jumping in the air, she’s smiling, she’s bringing energy.”

The Tar Heels needed more than that energy from Geiersbach in a hard-fought win over Stony Brook in the quarterfinals. The Stony Brook zone defense held Ortega to one assist, and the Seawolves led at halftime. It was Geiersbach and Aldave who took charge of the offense. Aldave finished with three goals and two assists, and Geiersbach scored twice with one helper.

“They were pretty focused on that right side, so handling the ball and pressure when I had it and keeping my head up and looking for those backside cuts was my role,” Geiersbach said.

UNC prevailed 8-5. But it seemed a bit like déjà vu. The Tar Heels rallied to beat Stony Brook in the quarterfinals last season. The next week, they fell to Boston College in an upset.

You see, 2021 was supposed to be the Heels’ year — with Katie Hoeg back for a fifth year, Taylor Moreno Ortega at the top of their games and the top scoring defense in the land. They seemed unbeatable. Then again, the same could be said for the 2019 installment of the Tar Heels that lost in overtime to BC in the semifinals. Ditto for the 2018 team that fell to James Madison.


In other words, there’s been a ton of heartbreak for the Heels. Geiersbach hasn’t been a part of it, but she’s heard about it.

“It’s something that has been talked about, especially with the fifth and sixth years — every year going to the Final Four and losing in that first game,” she said. “They’ve told us it hits hard.”

But Geiersbach thinks the Stony Brook game was exactly what the doctor ordered for UNC, which leads the nation in scoring margin (9.5) and whose season has been defined by dominance.

“I think it’s easy for a lot of people to see the negatives in that game, and that’s OK,” Geiersbach said. “That’s lacrosse for you and people watching lacrosse. For me and a lot of girls on the team, we took a lot of pride in that effort. We were tested in the best way possible, and that’s what we needed.”

Next up is a Northwestern team that North Carolina trounced 20-9 on March 6. Geiersbach tallied six points in the win — a confidence booster at the time that she says doesn’t mean much now.

“They are a way different team now,” she said.

But Geiersbach notes this UNC team isn’t the same as the ones that have fallen short of the title game in the last three Final Fours. And she’s heard that from the returning players more often than she’s heard about the lingering sting of the losses.

“The vibe is different,” Geiersbach said the returners have told her. “The energy is different. The love for each other is different.”

And the attack is different, too — thanks in part to a sixth-year player who isn’t done just yet.

“I never would have thought that this is where I would be,” Geiersbach said. “It was always a dream of mine, and in the back of my head, what a great feeling it would be to go to the Final Four and win it all … to get that done with this group of girls would be incredible.”


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