All in the family
UNC's Cannizzaro just one family member chasing gold
On the outskirts of Philadelphia this weekend, Kara Cannizzaro will conclude one of the great careers in the history of North Carolina women’s lacrosse. If all goes according to her storybook script, UNC's Tewaarton Award finalist and her teammates could end this season by hoisting the Division I national trophy Sunday night.
Within the City of Brotherly Love, Sean Cannizzaro is a sophomore for the upstart University of Denver men’s lacrosse team that knocked off North Carolina to secure a spot in the Division I semifinals. He could give his family twice as much to celebrate this weekend by helping the Pioneers complete a championship quest of their own.
Although the Cannizzaro siblings will only be within 25 miles of one another, the only chance they will see each other this weekend is if Kara and the Tar Heels hoist the Walnut and Bronze on Sunday at Villanova University.
Only then will she get to watch Sean’s and Denver play for a national title Monday afternoon -- providing the Pioneers can advance past Syracuse on Saturday and third-seeded North Carolina can beat defending national champion and second-seeded Northwestern in Friday night’s women’s semifinals.
“If everything works out in our favor, I’ll get to see him on Monday,” said Kara Cannizzaro, a midfielder who leads the Tar Heels with 53 goals and 72 points. “Hopefully if we have a good result Friday night, I’ll watch him on TV and rest and stay hydrated and stay focused [at the hotel].”
Cannizzaro comes from what she calls “a lacrosse family,” a lineage that began when her older brother, Chris, picked up the sport before turning his attention to hockey. Kara followed suit and became an All-American at Cazenovia (N.Y.) Central High School before taking her talents to North Carolina.
Two years later, Sean added to the Cannizzaro legacy, earning high school All-American accolades before emerging as a key reserve in Denver’s rise to national prominence.
Next year, the Cannizzaros will add another high school All-American to the college game when baby brother Thomas starts his career at Maryland. He has lived up to the lofty standards set by his siblings - both of whom reminded him of how many points he needed to beat their prep scoring marks - while challenging them to improve their games.
“We like to be really competitive with each other,” Kara Cannizarro said. “It keeps us humble, but it [also] keeps us working hard.”
North Carolina coach Jenny Levy credited Cannizzaro’s sibling rivalry for her inspired play, telling The Charlotte Observer, “She’s one of four kids, and the other three are boys.I think she had a choice at a young age to be submissive or fight for everything. She obviously made a choice, and it comes through on the field.”
Beyond her prodigious offensive skill, Cannizzaro’s work ethic is one of the factors behind the Tar Heels’ success as they make their third national semifinals appearance in her four years (and fourth in five seasons overall).
From coming off the bench as a freshman, she became a second-team All-American last year. This season, she forms one of the nation’s most formidable offensive with junior attacker Abbey Friend (44 goals, 69 points). Together, they combined for 11 points in North Carolina’s 13-9 victory against Atlantic Coast Conference rival Virginia in the semifinals.
“Kara has such amazing legs in the midfield and is such a great finisher,” Friend said. “We both work off each other so well in the offensive end. We know what each other is doing and we can play off each other’s strengths.”
For as well as Cannizzaro, Friend, and the Tar Heels (16-3) have played this season, however, their road to their first national championship is certainly challenging. Although the Tar Heels handed perennial power Northwestern (19-2) an 11-8 loss back on Feb. 22 in Evanston, Ill., Cannizzaro and her teammates know the Wildcats are always a different squad late in the season on a national stage.
Northwestern has won seven of the past eight national championships.
“Both teams have changed so much that we can’t really rely on anything from that game,” Cannizzaro said. “We’ve had so many changes and so many different results -- we lost to Florida, they beat Florida. I think we have to play really hard. We have to be tenacious on the draw.”
If North Carolina can get past Northwestern on Friday, and then either Maryland (two of the Tar Heels’ three losses have come against the top-ranked Terrapins) or Syracuse in Sunday’s women’s title game, it could be the beginning of a weekend celebration for the Cannizzaros should Sean’s Denver squad repeat the feat Memorial Day afternoon.