By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa women’s lacrosse team lost seven games during the regular season. The Cavaliers have avenged two of those defeats this postseason, and next weekend will bring an opportunity for more payback.
In an NCAA quarterfinal, sixth-seeded Virginia (11-8) takes on third-seeded North Carolina (15-4) on Saturday in Chapel Hill. The defending NCAA champion Tar Heels, who beat UVa 14-10 at Klöckner Stadium on March 8, have won nine straight games in the series and 11 of the past 12.
“They’re definitely a familiar foe, but I think we’re ready to go down to Chapel Hill and get a W,” junior midfielder Courtney Swan said Sunday.
Other opponents that defeated UVa during the regular season included Duke (16-11 on March 22) and Princeton (15-13 on March 15). In the ACC tournament, the Wahoos upset the Blue Devils 7-5.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament, Virginia built a six-goal lead on Princeton and then held on for a 13-11 victory Sunday afternoon at Klöckner Stadium.
The Cavaliers were eager, redshirt junior attacker Liza Blue said, to face the Tigers again.
“I was very frustrated with that regular-season game against them,” Blue said. “We did not play well at all. They are a good team, but we just did not play our game. We switched a lot of things up, and it was nice to get another chance at them.”
Swan said: “When we look back to that game, we just know we played really poorly, and we knew we could have played a lot better. So it’s fun coming out and avenging that loss.”
Swan led the Cavaliers with four goals and two assists Sunday. Blue added three goals, as did senior defender Maddy Keeshan. Moreover, Swan and Blue each came up with five draw controls in a game in which Virginia won 15 of 26.
Blue won the final three draw controls to help UVa keep Princeton, which trailed 12-6 with 13 minutes left, at bay.
“They were huge,” Virginia coach Julie Myers said. “Liza knew she had the ball, but nobody else knew she had the ball, and she just comes out free, and whenever Liza Blue has the ball, you’re feeling pretty good that a good decision is going to follow.”
This is Myers’ 19th season as head coach at her alma mater. In each of those seasons, the Cavaliers have advanced to the NCAA tournament. After losing March 15 at Princeton, though, the `Hoos were 3-5, and their NCAA streak appeared to be in peril. But Myers remained confident in her team.
“What I’ve always fallen back on, even when we weren’t playing great lacrosse, is we have great draw controls and we have a really good goalie [in senior Liz Colgan],” Myers said Sunday.
“When you have the ability to make some saves and to win a draw, I feel like good things should be able to come along. We had some pretty critical bookends in place.”
The Cavaliers, who had a first-round bye in the NCAA tournament, have won seven of their past nine games.
“I think everybody’s confidence has raised, and I just think we’re just playing more as a unit now,” Swan said. Early in the season “our defense would have a good game or our attack would have a good game. Now we’re stringing it together and getting the wins.”
Blue said: “We have switched some positions up, and we are a different team. We have a lot more confidence. On attack, we’re moving the ball a lot more. We’re not just relying on one person taking the whole burden on themselves. We’re sharing the ball, and we’re a little more unpredictable with our offense.”
A victory over UNC would send the `Hoos to the Final Four for the first time since 2007, when they were NCAA runners-up. It’s not likely to come easily. The Tar Heels have won 15 straight home games in the NCAA tournament.
Still, Blue said, the Heels have not been as dominant this spring as in 2013, “and our confidence has definitely grown through this last stretch.”
Myers said: “Carolina’s strengths last year are not necessarily their strengths this year. They have great players all over the field, but they don’t have a true drawer, which they had last year. They’re sharing their goalies, though they’re both pretty good, and their midfield is young.
“They certainly have great attackers and great defenders. They’re a little bit younger in the midfield, so hopefully — hopefully — we can kind of match up with them, and that midfield spot doesn’t really hurt us too much.”
Of the eight teams left in the NCAA tournament, six are from the ACC, and the conference will have three representatives at the Final Four on Memorial Day weekend in Towson, Md. No matter the outcome in Chapel Hill on Saturday, Myers admires the resilience her team has shown this season.
“Really what I’m most proud of is just how much the girls have come together, really leaning on each other and believing in one another,” she said. “It just feels great. Their fabric, it’s deep and it’s tight and it’s awesome.”