May 26, 2013

Long Time Coming, But Tar Heels Claim Crown

by Clare Lochary | | Twiter | Live Blog Replay

Sammy Jo Tracy scored in the third overtime peroid to lift North Carolina to a 13-12 win over Maryland on Sunday night at Villanova Stadium.
© Lee Weissman

* UNC Beats Maryland to Take First NCAA Title
* Howard Keeps Maryland in it Until the End

VILLANOVA, Pa. — North Carolina won its first championship by sudden victory, when freshman attacker Sammy Jo Tracy scored in the third overtime period to lift the Tar Heels to a 13-12 win over Maryland.

A sudden victory that only took more than 72 minutes of playing time. A sudden victory that only took 18 seasons of lacrosse in Chapel Hill.

"This is what our team is about," North Carolina senior Kara Cannizzaro said. "Yeah, we've made it to the final four a lot, but this is what puts our program over the hump. This shows the girls that North Carolina does win, and North Carolina will win."

North Carolina advanced to seven final fours, and even to the championship game in 2009. But the ultimate victory was elusive before this season.

Even for Tracy, a rookie, the win felt like it was a long time coming.

"It literally feels all like a dream. And to see that ball go in the back of the net is something I've dreamt about since my dad put a stick in my hand," said Tracy, who is the daughter of former Maryland All-American Dan Tracy.

Tracy was so electrified by the victory that she arrived at the postgame press conference in full uniform, including gloves and turf shoes. By contrast, Cannizzaro wore a championship hat and a championship t-shirt, and clung to a trophy draped in a swath of net cut down from the goal. The senior set a new Tar Heels record for single-season points (83) with her four-goal and two-assist performance in the championship. When asked how the Tar Heels finally broke through to the title, she cited their grinding work ethic.

"It's from the extra hours that we put in, the grueling run tests that our team has. You'll look down and you'll see girls literally crawling up and down the field to make the times," the Tewaaraton finalist said. "We make mistakes, probably more than we should. And we will turn the ball over , maybe more than we should. But we always have that belief that we're going to come up with the stop, we're going to get it back. Because we play got-your-back lacrosse."

Actually, North Carolina's mistake count was low — they had just eight turnovers to Maryland's 17. But they tended to come at bad times in a tight game. The Tar Heels allowed the Terps to make a five-goal run in the second half, and had a late, costly turnover that led to an equalizer by Alex Aust to force overtime.

Then Maryland senior goalie Kasey Howard came alive in the extra periods. Howard made just one save in regulation, but she had four stops in overtime. She stuffed Brittany Coppa (3 goals, 1 assist) on a fast break, kick saved a shot by Aly Messinger (3 goals), and denied Cannizzaro twice.

The Tar Heels' salvation came when Maryland midfielder Brooke Griffin got a one-on-one look against North Carolina freshman goalie Megan Ward, who had six saves, three of them in overtime. Griffin went high and Ward denied her, and then had to scramble to clamp down on the ball. She cleared it to Coppa, who fed Tracy inside the arc. Tracy finished with a low shot and brought the game and the season to a thrilling close.

"There were so many times when our backs were against the wall. It was, at some points, a comedy of errors. And we just eventually buckled down and got the job done," coach Jenny Levy said.

When asked if the win validated her career, Levy said no.

"I don't think it validates my career. It validates hard work," she said. "I think I'll get up tomorrow, and I've got three kids, and they'll be knocking down my door and I'll still have to make them breakfast, and do the laundry, and do the dishes and I'll still have to recruit. If anything, it shows that with a little belief and a lot of hard work, anything can be possible. I don't think I'm a better coach right now than I was a day ago. It just happens that I've got some really tough kids that we worked hard with all season and had the courage to see this through."

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