Northwestern's women's lacrosse team will miss its first NCAA finals since 2004, falling to its ACC rival North Carolina 11-4. Late in the game's second half, senior midfielder Taylor Thornton had an opportunity to score Northwestern’s fourth goal and perhaps mount a comeback in the final ten minutes. She lined up on the 8-meter for a free position shot. The whistle blared, Thornton ran forward and the ball fell out of her stick. The play summed up Northwestern’s entire afternoon against North Carolina.
All of Northwestern’s usual leaders were silenced: Junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard and senior defender Gabriella Flibotte each drew two yellow cards, removing them both from the game in the second half. Senior midfielders Erin Fitzgerald and Thornton couldn’t get anything started on the offensive end, either. Although Northwestern and North Carolina looked just about even in the first half box score, two key differences led to the Tar Heels’ capturing an early 4-1 lead: Northwestern’s poor shooting percentage and North Carolina’s stalwart defense. The two teams took a similar number of shots, but Northwestern’s usually on-target attackers shot one for eight while North Carolina made four of its seven shots. North Carolina’s freshman goalie Megan Ward was on target, making three saves.
Not only was Northwestern missing one of its favorite shots, the free position, but North Carolina’s defense also kept coming up with stops, forcing turnovers and rushing Northwestern’s usually calm offense. A North Carolina face-guarding scheme quieted senior attacker/midfielder Erin Fitzgerald, who got three looks at the goal but didn't score. Thornton also saw face-guarding. Northwestern committed eight turnovers in the first half but also forced six North Carolina turnovers, largely thanks to the Filbotte's anticipation. Still, Northwestern’s defense couldn’t keep up with North Carolina’s cuts, seemingly always a step behind.
North Carolina’s quick offense took advantage and shot low on sophomore goalie Bridget Bianco, leading to a three-goal lead. After North Carolina’s four goals, Bianco came up with two great saves to stop some of the Tar Heels’ momentum. The second half seemed promising at the start. Senior attacker Kat DeRonda found the back of the net but then heard a whistle, signaling the goal was no good. Instead, she drew a yellow card on her follow-through. On North Carolina’s subsequent offensive possession, Abby Friend earned the team’s first hat trick. Shortly after, Leonard drew her first yellow card, starting off the second half spiral.
Simply looking at the second half box score shows an evenly matched game, but the match was actually severely lopsided. North Carolina senior midfielder and Tewaaraton finalist Kara Cannizzaro took it upon herself to score her team’s final four goals. Bianco was only able to stop three out of seven shots in the second half. North Carolina’s victory prevented Northwestern’s decorated senior class from fighting for its fourth title in four years. On Sunday, the Tar Heels will go on to play the winner of the Maryland-Syracuse game.