The Next Great Tar Heel? Marissa White Looking More Like it Every Day


Marissa White is tied for the team lead with 10 goals in her freshman season.

The predominant storylines in women’s lacrosse for the last two years revolved around fifth-years and the transfer portal.

North Carolina was no exception. In fact, the Tar Heels were the rule. You know the names and the narrative. Jamie Ortega and Scottie Rose Growney spearheaded the attack. Taylor Moreno and Emma Trenchard locked down the defense. Ally Mastroianni was all over the field. Mix in a high-profile transfer in Andie Aldave and an unlikely heroine in sixth-year transfer Sam Geiersbach, and it was a recipe for redemption for a team that had fallen short in three straight Final Fours.

All of those players went out on top. To fill their cleats, head coach Jenny Levy opted for a more traditional route for 2023 — leaning into the players she recruited. And that meant immediately throwing Marissa White, a blue-chip freshman out of The Agnes Irwin School (Pa.), into the fire.

“We’re probably one of the younger teams offensively this year, and we knew she’d be a big part of that immediately,” Levy said.

White has responded. She has scored at least one goal in every game. She is tied with Caitlyn Wurzburger — who was expected to take the mantle on the graduation-depleted attack — for the team lead with 10 goals.

But White didn’t expect anything to be handed to her when she stepped on the field with what remained of UNC’s defending national champions. She had watched every game in 2022. She knew who was gone and the available opportunities, none of which she felt entitled to have.

“Coming in [after they won a national championship] was very exciting,” White said. “It’s something you want to grow upon and do again … but I had no expectations. I just wanted to get better, learn and grow.”

White’s quick ascent isn’t exactly a surprise to anyone who followed her in high school. She scored 100 goals as a freshman at The Agnes Irwin School and came to campus as the No. 2 recruit in her class, according to Inside Lacrosse. She grew up attending UNC prospect camps and watching players like Marie McCool, Katie Hoeg and Ortega. She dreamt of wearing Carolina blue.

“The biggest thing for her was that she’s very quick and has great hands,” Levy said. “She’s a really good finisher. Those were things that not only we noticed but everyone in the country noticed.”

Boston College, which UNC plays on Friday at 4 p.m. Eastern on ESPNU, was one of those teams. So was Penn. But White couldn’t pass up a chance to pursue her dream.

“Jenny is such a leader not only as a coach, but as a mentor. She makes you want to be your best every day,” White said. “I think the fact that she has a family, that family atmosphere that she brings into the program, is really special.”

White got a welcome surprise when McCool was elevated from volunteer assistant to assistant coach, tasked with running the Tar Heels’ new-look offense and bringing White along.

“She’s someone that I have looked up to and watched,” White said. “It’s full circle now that she is the coach here. She has such great lacrosse IQ, and that’s something that I learn more every day from her.”

In another full-circle moment, McCool was a veteran leader on the young 2018 Tar Heels Final Four team that included then-freshman Ortega. Growney was also on that team, listed as a midfielder who was transitioning to an attack role that would see her pour in 151 career goals, ninth on UNC’s all-time register.

Like Growney, White came in as a midfielder. Unlike Growney, White’s skills were needed immediately.

“She came out of the fall as one of our best, most consistent finishers,” Levy said. “We didn’t want to have to shift her off the field. Because there were so many open spaces on our offense from graduation, we thought that was a pretty natural place for her.”

Still, rebuilding an offense is a tall task. Wurzburger is the only returner who scored more than 30 times in 2022, finishing with 34 goals and 42 assists.

“It’s always easier to lose defense than it is to lose offense,” Levy said. “Great offenses take time because it’s chemistry-driven. They have to learn the fundamentals. Their stick work needs to get better. Their finishing needs to get better against bigger, faster and stronger defenses, and the strengths they have and how it fits within the system.”

White took the challenge to work hard every day literally. She went home for winter break in Pennsylvania, where the weather is several degrees colder than it is in Chapel Hill, and kept pushing.

“I was definitely doing a lot of running and sprinting, shooting, dodging, every day,” White said. “It’s cold in Philly in the winter, but I had to make it work.”

It paid off. When White returned to campus, the coaching staff moved her to attack. She realized she had a chance to start and ran with it. In her collegiate debut against James Madison, she poured in five goals against JMU’s lauded zone defense.

“I was surprised,” White said. “I was more of a cutter that game. They were leaving us open. I give our scout defense a lot of credit. They prepared us really well. I was very comfortable going into the game with spacing and where to be.”

The momentum has continued for the 4-0 Tar Heels. But Levy knows White and the rest of the offense will stop being a novelty quickly. Though the lack of experience left question marks on the depth chart, it may have played to UNC’s advantage early in the season.

“Some of the harder teams to prepare for are the ones with new units because no one knows what you are going to do,” Levy said. “As the season goes on and there is more film on you and your tendencies, the key is that you continue to develop and become more dynamic.”

That’s how Ortega went from a standout rookie to one of the greatest players in Tar Heel history. Levy doesn’t like to compare players — they all bring something different — but she has confidence White can do the same.

“The consistency Jamie played with was unbelievable,” Levy said. “We’re looking for that with Marissa, too, but that includes developing more. That’s what Jamie did. She developed and was a brilliant cutter. Marissa is, too. She’s very good off-ball.”

But, like Ortega, White won’t have to do it all alone.

“She doesn’t have to be a hero,” Levy said. “She has six other teammates on offense with her.

“A lot of our players want to be great, and she’s one of them. She has the ability to be great. What that looks like through the course of the season, I don’t know, but we’re going to work our butts off to be great.”

First up: A title-game rematch against a Boston College team that graduated an offensive superstar of its own in Charlotte North. White may not have been making confetti snow angels last May, but she’s battle-ready for Friday.

“We talk about dodging hard, seeing doubles and being able to capitalize when teams slide and double us,” White said. “We want to be really aggressive and leave it all out there.”


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