Going out in style
UNC's Cannizzaro ends career with national trophy in hand
VILLANOVA, Pa. -- On her final night of women's lacrosse, the last night of a captivating four-year journey, Kara Cannizzaro finally celebrated under falling confetti — the perfect ending to her Tar Heel career Sunday under the Villanova Stadium lights.
Following four years of accolades and impressive scoring sprees, Cannizzaro finally danced around with her teammates at season's end, a joyous scene capped by finally clutching the walnut and bronze trophy after helping the Tar Heels derail Maryland's previously undefeated season with a 13-12, triple sudden-death overtime victory in the longest NCAA lacrosse championship title game before 9,391 fans.
Cannizzaro certainly earned her time with the national championship trophy — not just because of her four-goal, two-assist performance that helped her become North Carolina's all-time single-season scoring leader and earn Most Outstanding Player honors.
“We grinded all year,” the smiling senior All-American and Tewaarton Award finalist said. “This is the one and only moment we're shining right now. So it's the best feeling in the world.”
Before joining its storied women's soccer and field hockey programs in winning national championships, North Carolina's women's lacrosse team perennially played in the shadows of the likes of Northwestern and Maryland. Only once did the Tar Heels (18-3) advance to a title game — and that was in 2009, the year before Cannizzaro arrived on campus.
Since then, North Carolina had not returned to a championship until this charmed season. During this weekend, the Tar Heels dominated Northwestern in the semifinals before staving off several serious challenges to hand top-seeded Maryland (22-1) its only setback of the year.
On the field for more than 60 minutes on Friday and an NCAA championship-game record 72:31 on Sunday, Cannizzaro played a starring role. Her four goals against Northwestern helped UNC secure its spot in its second title game, before her two goals and two assists helped her team claim a 9-6 halftime lead against a Terps team that had not trailed at halftime all season.
“She's a strong player,” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. “She goes hard to the goal, she 's not afraid to challenge, not afraid to take shots. When you double her early [like Maryland did], she moves the ball to get shots.”
Cannizzaro's influence, like that of fellow senior captain Emily Garrity, descended down to North Carolina's highly recruited freshman class; especially rookie attacker Sammy Jo Tracy, who produced the game-winning goal 31 seconds into the third sudden-death overtime.
“She made sure I was always working my hardest,” Tracy said. “Playing with Kara [Cannizzaro] and Emily [Garrity] and all of our seniors has been a gift. I learned how to stay composed. I really developed as a player because of my coaches, Kara, Emily and the rest of the crew.”
Cannizzaro nearly helped the Tar Heels secure the victory during regulation. After they allowed five unanswered goals and trailed 11-9 early in the second half, she converted a spectacular spin move after emerging from behind the goal cage and buried a free-position shot inside of four minutes to give her squad a 12-11 lead with nine minutes left.
Although UNC squandered the lead late in regulation and Cannizzaro saw a couple of her best attempts thwarted during extra time, she still finished as the Tar Heels' single-season scoring leader with 83 points.
Even better, she finished her career celebrating with a national championship.
“It's amazing,” Cannizzaro said. “I don't think there's more I can say. We've lost so many times, to go out on top, there are literally no words I can use to describe.”