May 16, 2009

UNC Discovers Offensive Touch, Breaks Hex

by Jesse Baumgartner | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina women's lacrosse coach Jenny Levy didn't talk to her team about getting past the barrier, instead telling the Tar Heels simply to focus on its next game against Notre Dame.

But once the buzzer sounded and her Heels had stormed the field Saturday with a 16-10 win over Notre Dame in the NCAA quarterfinals, Levy could afford to reflect on her team's first trip to the final four since 2002 (fourth overall) after coming up an agonizing one game short the past four seasons.

"Obviously we've lost the past four quarterfinal games, so this is a great monkey off my personal back," she said.

UNC has plenty on its plate next Friday against Maryland, but Saturday was a chance to relish the fact that the Tar Heels would once again be back on the national stage.

"We don't really care who we play," Levy said. "It's kind of been the motto for the whole tournament, so we're just excited to have another week together as a team."

The ticket to Towson certainly didn't come without a toll, though. For starters, the rather low-scoring Tar Heels had to figure out how to deal with a Notre Dame team putting up 15.55 goals a game -- led by the dynamic Jillian Byers, who scored five goals Saturday.

The Tar Heels were averaging just 11.01 goals per game, a trend Levy credited to both a tough schedule and certain games in which she pulled her team back to preserve a lead. But she also felt that several games midseason took their toll.

"We didn't have enough time to practice. We weren't practicing a lot," Levy said.

"I was an attacker and attackers like to do a lot of shooting. They like to get a lot of reps. And we just didn't have the time and practice to do a lot of that. And I thought that really hurt some of the output of goals during the season."

There were no such problems Saturday, though.

In the first half, UNC utilized the individual abilities of attackers like Jenn Russell (three goals, one assist), usually scoring off of individual cuts from around the goal. Megan Bosica accentuated that strategy when she scored the last goal of the first half by circling back around the net for a wraparound to give the Heels an 8-6 lead.

UNC didn't record an assist on its first nine goals, but then had four on its final seven.

"I think that the great thing about our team is that we have the dodgers, and we have the inside game, we have feeding and the one-on-one. So we were able to pressure them with the one-on-ones early on, which opened up the feeding lane," said Kristen Taylor (one goal, three assists), who added that pressuring Notre Dame in transition in the second half also led to the assists.

The other part of the equation was controlling the Irish firepower.

Though Byers scored five, four of them were in the second half. Notre Dame head coach Tracy Coyne said she wished her star had been a little more trigger-happy early on, and cited a team-wide lack of assertiveness.

"I think on attack, I wanted them to be more up-tempo," Coyne said. "We were way too conservative, and I think it was the difference in the game."

Still, with the score at 11-8, the Irish had an opportunity when UNC was two players down for a full 2:02 after back-to-back yellow cards.

Instead, the Tar Heels maddenlingly kept control of the ball during that time to run out the penalties -- a seqence that Levy called "huge" -- and ended up scoring the game's next goal minutes later on a Taylor assist as they began to pull away.

With that resiliency and a newfound offensive confidence (31 goals in two NCAA tournament games), the Tar Heels are entering the final four as a team far removed from the one that lost to Duke 14-4 back on April 24.

And apparently one that isn't content, either, despite breaking the quarterfinal jinx.

"I'm not satisfied," senior defender Amber Falcone said. "I want to get into that final game."

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