lacrosse-women-d1 flag

Mike Lopresti | | May 12, 2022

8 things to know about North Carolina women's lacrosse — a team with a shot at perfection

2022 NCAA DI women's lacrosse championship selection show

Just look at the juggernaut that is North Carolina women’s lacrosse.

Look at the perfect record and No. 1 ranking... the five-time All-American attacker whose name is all over the NCAA record books... the three-time All-American defender whose great-great-grandfather coached Tar Heels football in the 19th century... the goalie who has won 66 games and once kicked PATs for the football team in high school... the coach who has the third-most wins in NCAA history.

Look at the remarkable winning streaks. The six consecutive ACC tournament titles, representing extraordinary dominance in a lacrosse-rich league that currently accounts for five of the top-16 ranked teams. Or the 40 regular-season victories in a row going back to 2019. Or the 53 wins in their past 55 games, the only two losses against the same nemesis from 700 miles away.

Look at all that, and still understand there are two words more than any others that drive the Tar Heels as the 2022 NCAA tournament beckons this weekend.

"Taking care of unfinished business is definitely something this team is looking forward to," goalie Taylor Moreno was saying.

DON'T MISS A MOMENT: Live updates from the DI women's lacrosse championship

The roster includes five graduate students and six seniors, and they have created a machine that has seen no limits — except for one. In 2018, North Carolina lost in the Final Four to James Madison 15-12. In 2019, the Tar Heels were taken out in the Final Four by Boston College, 15-14 in two overtimes. They were 7-0 in 2020 when COVID ended the season. They were 20-0 in 2021, when they were beaten in the Final Four again 11-10 by those same infernal pests from Boston College.

Years of success, years of winning, years of glory.

But . . .

Listen to Jamie Ortega, the five-time All-American, about those unhappy endings.

"It’s not a great feeling, I think it always stays with me, and after each year it kind of gets worse. I think it’s always fueling me and my teammates and my coaches. There’s never a day that goes by where we don’t think about it; you think about losing and coming up short."

Listen to Moreno, the grad student goalie who is 66-6.

"I’ve continuously said it to a bunch of our younger guys, they don’t understand what the feeling is to sit there and lose in the Final Four and have a national championship kind of ripped out from underneath you. I know for me, every time I’ve come back to Chapel Hill the following year I know for a fact that I want to get my ass back up there. It was one of the reasons why I decided to come back for a sixth year."

Listen to Jenny Levy, the coach in her 27th season with two national titles, 12 trips to the national semifinals and 391 wins.

"I think what has bonded this group together probably more than anything is just the painful losses they’ve had together. I think that’s one thing they feel very deeply."

Come Sunday, when North Carolina hosts the Southern Cal-Virginia winner, the chase will begin anew. Four wins to salvation. Here are eight things to know about a team on a mission.

1. The Tar Heels are 18-0, which means there is the potential to finish as an unbeaten national champion. Check the other team sports this academic year in the NCAA — from football to soccer, from basketball to volleyball to water polo. Nobody in Division I has been able to do that, though the Maryland lacrosse men still have a chance, too.

The perfect season thing hasn't been big on Levy's radar screen: "We haven’t really focused on being undefeated, we haven’t really focused on being No. 1. It just doesn’t matter. We already experienced that last year and it didn’t really help us when we needed it."

Nor Ortega's: "It was never the goal. Last year I think we were more scared of losing than excited to win. This year we’re just pumped up to play whoever comes our way. If we win a national championship and we’re undefeated, that’s great. But we’ve never really cared about that. We just care about playing every game with everything we have and all our heart."

2. They have been at their best against the best, with a 12-0 record against ranked opponents, 6-0 vs. top-10, 4-0 vs. top-five, three of those away from home. "We played most of our hard, hard games on the road, so that challenged us in a different way," Levy said. "Along every step of the way, we found different ways to win. We found different kids stepping up in different situations. The just have a lot of poise."

3. Ortega has become a Chapel Hill institution, needing every finger on one hand to count all her All-American berths. She is second on the NCAA all-time list in points and third in goals, and once set the Carolina freshman scoring record with 70 goals. The old mark was 50. "When you see her play it’s almost relaxing because of how easy she makes it seem," Levy said. "She is the purist finisher I’ve ever coached. It’s not with a lot of power, it’s all placement and deception. When you meet her, she’s humble and she’s quiet and unassuming. And beneath that is this tiger that just shows up and plays what’s in front of her."

Now all Ortega wants is a proper finish.

"These people I have on the team are really like sisters to me. It makes this place even harder to leave. If we bring home a national championship it’ll be for everyone here that have really grown into part of my family,” she said. “I went to graduation Sunday, the men’s team didn’t make it so they’re all leaving, my other friends on other teams are leaving. I could potentially have only four games left in my college career. That’s very emotional, but also a good feeling. I’m happy I’m even able to have a fifth year to play."

Lacrosse has been part of her life since the second grade. "It's who I am," she said. By eighth grade, she was playing on the high school varsity, the natural target for opponents. "I was really tiny. I was the young one. I would play midfield so they saw me playing and it was kind of like a no-brainer," she said.

Added Levy, "When you’re playing varsity on Long Island in eighth grade, you know legitimately you’re really good."

FULL BRACKET: See the 2022 DI women's lacrosse championship bracket

4. Moreno is sixth in the nation in goals allowed per game and leads the ACC in save percentage. She first tried the position as a kid when nobody else on her youth team wanted to play the spot. "Once I started playing goalie more consistently I just kind of fell in love with the position, I fell in love with the equipment and the adrenaline rush," she said. By high school, she was not only kicking for the football team but had earned a first-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

5. Emma Trenchard is the three-time All-American on defense, whose family roots in athletics run deep. Her mother was a lacrosse All-American, her father a team lacrosse captain in college. Thomas Trenchard coached North Carolina football in 1895 and again during World War I, and went 26-9-2. A good record, but not as good as his great-great-granddaughter in lacrosse.

6. There’s more veteran power. Senior Ally Mastroianni is a two-time ACC midfielder of the year. Senior Scottie Rose Growney scored 13 goals in the ACC tournament, the daughter of a father who played professional box lacrosse. Andie Aldave is a graduate transfer from Notre Dame and third on the team in goals.

7. Levy has seen lacrosse magic from all directions. She helped lead Virginia to the 1991 national championship as an attacker and in 2002 was named one of the top 50 ACC players in history. She has formed the Tar Heels into a relentless power, and is also the current USA national coach. She's married to Dan. The same year she was winning a lacrosse national championship for Virginia, he was doing the same thing for North Carolina. What she wants most right now is to see this band of Tar Heel veterans who have done so much to take that same final step.

"I can’t even put words to that. I want it deeply for them," she said. "I'm trying not to mess it up as a coach. I really put a lot of time and thought into how to guide these guys because at some point the coach becomes the guide and the players become the leaders."

She considers her job at the moment to be getting her team prepared and confident to respond to any tournament crisis that might be ahead. "If I do that well, then I can let the talent do their thing."

HISTORY: Every DI women's lacrosse champion since 1982

8. North Carolina would, of course, take a title win over anyone. But it’s clear what the storybook ending would be, and against whom. The 2 in that 53-2 record over the past 55 games belongs to Boston College, both when it hurt most in the Final Four. The Tar Heels have beaten the Eagles twice in 2022; 16-15 during this regular season and 16-9 in the ACC title game.

"I think it's just honestly great for the sport itself," Moreno said of the rivalry. "I know that’s what gives us a little bit of a fire under our asses."

Ortego, too. "Unfortunately, they ended my sophomore year and my senior year, so it’s definitely more personal than other teams. We’ve already seen them twice this year, it probably won’t be the last."

All part of the business that North Carolina now so desperately seeks to finish.

What March Madness looked like the year you were born

Here's wishing you a very vintage March Madness and may all your dreams of a perfect bracket come true. Here's what March Madness looked like the year you were born.

Schools with the most NCAA college basketball national championships

These schools have won the most NCAA men's basketball national championships.

The college basketball teams with the most national championships

Here are the college basketball teams with the most national championships in NCAA tournament history.