IT WAS the Kara Cannizzaro show in the second half of the opening game of the NCAA women's lacrosse Final Four.
Before thousands of women's lacrosse fans hailing from this area and from around the country, North Carolina advanced to the national championship game with an 11-4 victory over Northwestern last night at Villanova Stadium. UNC will play Maryland, which defeated Syracuse, 11-10, in the second semifinal game of the evening.
Cannizzaro, a senior midfielder for the Tar Heels, outscored the two-time defending champion Northwestern Wildcats by herself in the second half, as she scored four consecutive goals for UNC, while Northwestern had only three goals after intermission.
"My team was amazing," Cannizzaro said. "When I get going, I think everyone feels a little momentum swing. My team carried us in the first half and that's what allowed us to explode in the second half. I have to give everything to my team in this game."
The Tar Heels (17-3) jumped on the Wildcats early and did not look back. A goal by senior midfielder Jessica Griffin less than 4 minutes into the match put Northwestern in a deficit that it could not overcome.
Junior attack Abbey Friend scored twice in the first half as the Tar Heels took a 4-1 lead into halftime. She added her third goal to begin the second half.
Despite back-to-back Northwestern goals to shift the momentum its way, Cannizzaro showed the Wildcats why she led the Tar Heels with 53 goals during her senior season. Four consecutive goals by Cannizzaro opened the UNC lead to 11-3.
Asked whether the large lead made her feel safe, freshman goalkeep Megan Ward said, "I don't think I ever felt that way. I never felt that we had secured the game because [the Wildcats] are such a tough opponent that has such a strong history in the championship, so I don't think you can ever let go and let your guard down."
Ward allowed allow one final Northwestern goal, but held the Wildcats (19-3) scoreless for the final 3 minutes, 37 seconds to seal the win as the Heels reached their second national championship game. Their first, in 2009, was a loss to Northwestern.
"Obviously, my team didn't have their best day today, but I am very proud of them and everything they accomplished," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said.
In the nightcap, Syracuse freshman attack Kayla Treanor finished with four goals and two assists, but it was Maryland sophomore midfielder Brooke Griffin who stole the spotlight. Griffin's only goal of the contest came with 2:51 remaining and was the difference in the 11-10 victory.
The victory gives the Terrapins their 17th appearance in the championship, and first since 2010, when they beat Northwestern for their 10th title.
Maryland and UNC meet tomorrow night at Villanova Stadium. Maryland won both meetings this season, including the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
"I'm sure we will be the underdog again and that's OK by us," UNC coach Jenny Levy said. "We don't really talk about being the underdog; we talk about how we want to play. Our mindset is that it's still a game and we really want to play our best regardless of who our opponent is."