May 18, 2013

UNC 'Just Better' as Tar Heels Beat Virginia, Advance to Final Four

by Henry Gargan | | Live Blog Replay

Kara Cannizzaro netted three goals and North Carolina built a eight-goal halftime lead and beat Virginia 13-9 at UNC's Fetzer Field.
© Peyton Williams

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — After her team's 13-9 quarterfinal victory against Virginia on Saturday, the first question North Carolina coach Jenny Levy fielded from the press had to do with her team's three goals in the game's opening 54 seconds.

Had she ever seen such an explosive start from the Tar Heels?

"Yeah," she said. "Florida. I think we started with three goals in about a minute against Florida at the beginning of this season. That's not uncommon for us."

But North Carolina went on to lose to Florida 5-3 in its season-opener after scoring the game's first three goals. On Saturday, the Tar Heels kept their foot on the accelerator all the way to a 10-2 halftime lead and an eventual berth in the national semifinals Friday against either Northwestern or Penn State.

This contest also differed from UNC's 8-7 regular-season win against the Cavaliers on March 9. Levy had one simple explanation for the difference between this result and those two.

"We're just better," she said. "It's May, and last time we played them was in March. We've gotten better, and that's our goal every year — to get better every day. I was glad we didn't have the same result we did in March."

As one of the most athletic teams in the country, UNC has become well-known for its athleticism and ability to score quickly. Virginia coach Julie Myers said that her team would have needed a perfect game to beat the Tar Heels, but it took less than a minute for her team's imperfections to be exposed. From then on, the game would be played on UNC's terms.

"That opening minute where we let in three goals made us play a little bit behind the ball for a bit too long," Myers said. "So if we could re-do that first minute, we've got ourselves a good chance of a win."

In a three-goal hole, though, Virginia seemed to become further unraveled, and a comedy of errors ensued. Two of UNC's final goals in the first half simply rolled into the goal, and the last was actually scooped in by Virginia midfifelder Morgan Stephens as she battled for a ground ball.

Abbey Friend scored four of her career-high five goals in the first half, at least two of which came in one-on-one, close-range encounters with a helpless Kim Kolarik in the Virginia goal. By the end of the first half, UNC had scored 10 goals on 10 shots.

Though the Tar Heels opened the scoring again in the second half, this time just 14 seconds into the period, the Cavaliers made a valiant 7-3 showing during the course of the last 30 minutes.

It was an impressive display of focus and resiliency from Virginia, but because North Carolina had built such an impressive lead early on, it had the luxury of being able to stall away the final minutes even as the Cavaliers did what they could to cut into the lead.

Levy has said all season that teams will experience highs and lows throughout every game, but that it is easier to play from ahead than from behind. It seemed to dawn on Virginia that if it could have played all game as it did during the second half, the result could have been closer.

"It's definitely frustrating because I'm a fourth-year and this is my last game," said Virginia senior Megan Dunleavy. "But in any game it's frustrating if you don't start off strong. And especially in the elite eight, you can't come out slow in the first half. We did a good job fighting back, but we just didn't have enough time."

Kolarik made five second-half saves, some of which were in one-on-one situations, to keep UNC's lead from ballooning. North Carolina also seemed to lose patience on offense.

"In the first half, we were a lot more composed and we were taking a second or two to shoot around the goalie and make sure our shots were on net," said North Carolina senior Kara Cannizzaro, who recorded a hat trick. "In the second half, we got into a lull where we weren't necessarily taking the time and poised to finish."

But UNC's razor-sharp focus at the opening whistle has been what has allowed it to forgive itself for such lapses in concentration late in the game.

Torrential downpours doused Fetzer Field in the 30 minutes prior to the contest, and the game's opening draw was pushed back 20 minutes to allow UNC's ground crews to dump dry soil into the puddles that had developed at midfield and near the goals.

But Cannizzaro said the excitement of her team earning one more week together allowed the Tar Heels to weather both the delayed start time and take advantage of Virginia's cavalier defense early on.

"We cherish the moment and we love playing together," she said. "It's not going to affect our intensity as far as how we come out of the gates. We want to be the first people to put a point on the board. We're ready to go."

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