May 21, 2011

Mid-Game Swing Sends North Carolina Back to Final Four

by Jonathan Jones | | Live Blog Replay | Live Blog/Chat Center

Laura Zimmerman scored a game-high four goals, as North Carolina advanced to its third straight final appearance with a 16-13 victory Saturday over Loyola.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In a game where the winner goes to the final four and the loser goes home, the importance of momentum cannot be overstated.

The No. 3-seeded North Carolina women's lacrosse team battled No. 6-seeded Loyola in a first half that saw six ties and three lead changes. But UNC secured a three-goal lead in the final seconds of the first half that carried them through intermission all the way to its 16-13 win in the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament quarterfinals.

"It was a really big momentum swing for us," Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy said. "We went up two, and you can score quickly in lacrosse. I think going up by three at the half, I think it was a great momentum-builder for halftime. As a coach, I really want to make sure we come out of the second half and not relax."

With eight seconds left in the first half, Laura Zimmerman made her move towards the Loyola goal. But as she shot, she drew a foul with three seconds remaining. The ensuing free-position goal found the back of the net as time expired and gave UNC a 10-7 lead entering halftime.

"We had a huge save off that play and it got put back on the 8," Loyola coach Jen Adams said. "You come off the high thinking you've stopped a goal at the end of the half, to putting them on the 8 in position to score. But we've been in that position before and we've been down coming out of the locker room."

The Tar Heels parlayed that momentum at the start of the second half with two quick goals by Kara Cannizzaro and Zimmerman — who led UNC with four goals — that gave the home team the largest lead of the game at 12-7.

"I thought our fitness and conditioning and focus started to come through toward the end of the first half and beginning of the second half, and I thought that was the difference in the game," Levy said.

From there, the teams traded two-goal streaks for most of the second half, but the Greyhounds could never overcome the five-goal deficit they faced just three minutes into the second frame.

The two squads combined to commit 62 fouls on the day along with eight yellow cards, including seven in the second half.

"The last 10 minutes were an adventure that we'd prefer not to repeat," Levy said. "I thought the game was very physical and we did a good job of staying poised and not getting into that really physical game where it takes you out of how you want to play."

Grace Gavin kept the Greyhounds competitive with a game-high five goals. Loyola's all-time leading scorer recorded a hat trick just 18 minutes into the game. Meg Decker also contributed a hat trick with three goals of her own.

"[Gavin] is so powerful and she's so difficult to stop," Adams said. "We're up against one of the best defenses in the nation, and she's finding ways to handle them easily."

Loyola finished its season at 17-3, tying the school record for most wins in program history. UNC improved to 15-5 and advanced to its third straight final four appearance. The Tar Heels will take on the winner of Saturday night's Albany-Northwestern quarterfinal Friday in an NCAA semifinal at Stony Brook.

"It's a great feeling," UNC senior All-American Corey Donohoe said. "This is what we work for all year long -- to get back to this point -- and I'm really proud of what our team did today."

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