The third-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels women’s lacrosse team held off the top-seeded Maryland Terrapins in a 13-12 triple-overtime thriller to win their first-ever National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship title at Villanova Stadium in Villanova, Pa. on Sunday.
Was it a surprise that the Tar Heels handed the undefeated Terps their first and only loss on the season during the championship game?
Considering the dominance that Maryland has had in the sport in possessing 10 national titles to its credit, the answer was probably yes.
To many who followed both of these teams throughout the season, it was not surprising that the differential between both of these teams was a goal.
It wasn’t shocking to understand how the early 5-2 lead that the Tar Heels held over the Terps during the first half was erased by the early stages of the second half when Maryland’s Brooke Griffin tied it 9-9 with 24:39 to play.
That’s how both these teams have played one another all season, and with Maryland getting the upper hand each time.
The stage was set for North Carolina to suffer another loss to the Terps.
The Tar Heels came up short during the first meeting of the regular season against their ACC foe when they tried to stage a comeback, but lost 14-13 in College Park back in early April.
Maryland’s offense then overpowered North Carolina during the two teams’ last meeting in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) title game.
Even as North Carolina kept it close early on during that matchup, the Tar Heels fell behind and couldn’t come from behind in that game either, losing 12- 8.
North Carolina couldn’t maintain ball control effectively after dominating in draw-control possessions, and after numerous turnovers, were not able to get the ball back long enough to overcome a sizeable deficit, even while outscoring Maryland 4-0 to end the game.
It was too little, too late once again.
Déjà vu all over again?
Thus, as Maryland began to overpower the Tar Heels in the NCAA championship game, leading 11-9 with 19:55 to play, the Tar Heels had to do something different – and they did.
They held up against the Maryland offense and executed a steady and tenacious and defensive stance that Maryland hadn’t seen, while settling their offense to work at their pace.
Moving the ball around from the top to the back of the cage and back top again for a few cycles, that patience made the difference and allowed North Carolina to put together an unanswered 3-0 run led by Brittany Coppa (3g, 1a) and one that was reinforced by two goals from eventual player of the game, Kara Cannizzaro (4g, 2a).
The Tar Heels held a narrow 12-11 lead with nine minutes remaining to play.
Could they hold off the Terps for that period of time?
Even while the Tar Heels dominated possession and hovered around the Terps cage, the ball eventually made it to the other end of the field and Maryland’s Alex Aust answered that question.
Even though it took over five minutes, both teams were deadlocked once again, tied 12-12 with 3:51 to play.
There was more than enough time remaining for a game-winning goal to be scored, but both teams exhibited extreme patience and attention to detail as any small mistake would prove costly.
Regulation time ended and both teams briefly recharged and then went out for another 12 minutes and 31 seconds.
Both goalkeepers made the biggest saves of the season for their teams as North Carolina’s Megan Ward made three stops while Maryland’s Kasey Howard tallied four of her own to keep the score deadlocked.
No, it wasn’t sudden victory overtime yet, but any goal against would have created a giant hurdle to overcome considering how tight each team’s defense was playing at the time.
Play continued through the first overtime period before both teams began the second overtime period – a sudden-victory period.
Both teams continued to play another six minutes with no winner declared, and with the drama of the game heightening as each second counted down.
Then, just 31 seconds into the beginning of the third overtime period, it was North Carolina freshman Sammy Jo Tracy who netted the winning goal that finally gave the Tar Heels their first-ever national title.
North Carolina had executed all facets of the game that were necessary to beat a Maryland team that had their number all season – sound defense, hard-driving offense, and getting a deserving break that rewarded a season’s worth of practice and work that came at the most critical and impactful time of year.
The Tar Heels finally became NCAA lacrosse champions.
Carolina Lacrosse Network
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