Peter Koutroumpis – email@example.com
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The third-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels will continue defense of their title when they take on the six-seeded Virginia Cavaliers in the quarterfinals of the 2014 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament at Fetzer Field on Saturday.
The Tar Heels have been down this road before and are looking to return to Final Four weekend for the eighth time overall and the fifth time in six years.
At this time last year, North Carolina (15-4) was working to earn its first-ever title, which it eventually did.
This time around, it’s still business as usual with no differences as to how head coach Jenny Levy has focused her team on being successful, even while they still have their arms around the trophy that everyone else wants.
“There’s none,” Levy said before practice earlier this week.
“This time of year it’s Wednesday before a big quarterfinal game against the Wahoos. It really has nothing to do about last year and it has nothing to do about next week. The only thing we have in front of us is Virginia, and the only thing we can do is focus on ourselves and getting better in the areas of the game we feel like we can be better in.”
While the Tar Heels have focused on themselves, others have also put them in their sights as well.
Starting the season as the number one team in the country and as the defending national champions, the opposition knew what North Carolina would present.
“We started out the year really hot,” Levy said.
“It wasn’t a surprise; we knew what we were capable of. People start to scout you more. I think there was more information out on us later in the season and I think being able to adjust to that as a team is really important. Understanding that people are going to scout you, they’re gonna’ game-plan for you, and you’re gonna’ have to adjust.”
Even with the graduation of All-American, All-ACC and Tewaaraton finalist Kara Cannizzaro, North Carolina’s offense still continued to roll on with senior Abby Friend and freshman Sydney Holman leading the way throughout the season.
In addition, the Tar Heels defense, led by the duo of Calyee Waters and Megan Ward, has allowed them to contend once again for another NCAA title.
“We’ve got two All-ACC goalies which I’ve never seen,” Levy said.
“They’re both very good. We have a lot of faith and a lot of trust in both of them. They are a little bit different, but I think we’re in a good situation. We gain a lot of confidence off of their play and the saves that they make. We feel like, ‘hey, were one of the teams where we have a goalie, but we’ve got two of ‘em’.”
To start the season, the Tar Heels played like the defending national champions – putting together a high-scoring, 11-game win streak.
However, they hit a rough spot and lost three of their next four as they ended March and entered into April.
“We struggled with that a little bit,” Levy said.
“We hit some really good teams down the stretch that had a lot of great players and a lot of good gaming and we struggled a little bit with that and I think it’s helped us. It’s helped us be better. It’s helped us understand, ‘hey, we’ve been here before.’”
Levy and her team made adjustments, but also had to deal with the adversity of losing Holman, the team’s second-leading scorer, as a result of a torn ACL injury to her left knee that she suffered in the ACC Tournament quarterfinal against Boston College.
Without the ACC Co-Freshman of the Year who set a UNC freshman record with a team-high 27 assists, Friend continued to carry the offensive load.
In UNC’s 10-8 second-round win over Georgetown last week, Friend broke the school career goals record and tied the school single-season goals record, tallying four goals and an assist.
She also sits just nine points shy of tying UNC’s all-time scoring record.
As a result, the Tar Heels have now won three of their last four games heading into their matchup against Virginia.
Although they hold a current nine-game win streak against the Cavaliers (11-8) dating back to the NCAA Tournament in 2010, Friend and her teammates know that past results and scoring records don’t mean anything if they don’t advance further in the tournament.
“At the end of the day, the team is different than last year, but our goal is the same,” Friend said.
“That’s the biggest thing and that’s what’s so exciting. We know that ultimately we have to take it one game at a time. First one’s UVA because if you don’t win, then you can’t ultimately reach that national championship which is our goal. Just continuing to take it day by day, and know that every game is really important. You have to beat UVA to keep moving on.”