May 21, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

The University of North Carolina women’s lacrosse team was not about to let their season end early again this year after losing in the last four NCAA quarterfinal rounds.

The Tar Heels wanted a different outcome this time around.  The squad’s strength of schedule – three of their four losses are to NCAA semifinal teams – propelled UNC to a No. 3 seed in this year’s Division I Championship bracket, giving them the right to host the first two rounds. 

North Carolina had lost on the road in each of the last four seasons, and scoring home field advantage definitely helped in the victories over Towson and Notre Dame as the Tar Heels advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2002.

“It’s been hard to getting to where we want to go,” said senior Amber Falcone.  “I feel like getting over the hump of winning that quarterfinal game is a huge relief.”

"It's a great opportunity and we're excited to be heading to Towson," said head coach Jenny Levy. "We don't really care who we play. That's been our motto for the whole tournament. We're just excited to have another week together. The team gets along great and works hard, and I'm excited."

Falcone, who is a finalist for the Tewaaraton Trophy and a three-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference honoree, says that the Tar Heels’ change of focus has helped them step up their level of play.

“In the past, I think we may have worried too much about who the opponent is and how we would play against them,” said Falcone.  “Now, it’s about us.  We want teams to have to play to our strengths and the things that we do well.”

The native of Westminster, Md., who is one of the nation’s top defensive players, paces the Tar Heels with 50 ground balls and 30 caused turnovers, and credits the team’s athleticism for their success.

“We are very athletic players, and I think that has helped us through the season,” said Falcone.  “There have been some tight games we’ve played, and our athletic ability and our poise have gotten us through those games even though we may not have been playing our best.  We came out on top because we had that extra edge.”

North Carolina suffered setbacks to the other three semifinal squads – No. 1 Northwestern (12-7), No. 2 Maryland (13-8) and No. 4 Penn (11-2), but the Tar Heels are embracing the role of the underdog. 

“We feel like we deserve to be here even though we feel like the underdog,” said Falcone. “We have nothing to lose.  Even though we have lost to the other teams and we can go out and play our game and our style of lacrosse and show them what we have.  Hopefully, we can show them that the first game was a fluke and we can give them a great game and come out on top.” 
The Tar Heels will take on unbeaten Maryland (21-0) for the second time this season in the second semifinal game Friday at 8:30 p.m., at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md.  Four-time defending NCAA champion Northwestern (21-0) will tangle in a rematch of last year’s national title game at 6 p.m. with Penn.

“All four teams are great, and this is how it’s supposed to work out,” said Falcone.  “The teams go in seeded because that’s who they think is the best.  I think it’s going to be a great competition.”