NORTH CAROLINA now has a women's lacrosse championship to add to all the soccer and basketball ones the school has won.
Sammy Jo Tracy scored 31 seconds into the third overtime to lift the Tar Heels to the NCAA women's lacrosse title with a 13-12 win over Maryland on Sunday night at Villanova Stadium. Brittney Coppa assisted on the goal that gave the Tar Heels (18-3) their first national crown in the longest title game in tournament history.
"If anything, it shows with a little belief and a lot of hard work, anything can be possible," said Jenny Levy, the only coach the Tar Heels have known in their 18 seasons. "I have some really tough kids I've worked hard with all season. We've had to build from the ground up. There was no lacrosse in the state of North Carolina when we started our program."
Katie Schwarzmann and Taylor Cummings each had three goals for the Terps (22-1), who were bidding for their 11th championship in 19 NCAA Final Fours.
"High emotion, high intensity and pretty exciting for fans to watch," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "I think this one will go down as one of the most exciting national championship games in the history of our sport."
Both goalies played well in overtime after the teams ended regulation tied at 12. North Carolina's Megan Ward stopped Brooke Griffin from point-blank range early in the third overtime.
"I knew I had to make it because it was sudden death," Ward said.
Coppa took an outlet pass from Ward and raced up the field.
"The ball ended up in my stick and I was just like, 'Go,' " Coppa said. "I knew it felt right and I didn't stop. Sammy Jo popped and was open."
Coppa found Tracy to the left of the cage, and she fired a bounce shot from 9 yards out that beat Kasey Howard.
"I let one rip just like in practice," said Tracy, whose father made the lacrosse All-America team with Maryland. "It literally feels all like a dream. To see that ball go in the back of the net was something I've dreamed about since my dad put a stick in my hand."
Levy didn't have a play called on the winning tally, instead believing in her players' instincts. "You have to trust at that point that they're going to make the right choice," she said. "[Tracy's] a great finisher. It was the right play. I just tried not to mess it up. We have a lot of trust in our kids to go make plays, to be bold and go for it."
There was a delay after the goal as Maryland requested the officials check the legality of Tracy's stick. North Carolina players celebrated wildly on the field after the officials ruled the stick legal.
Kara Cannizzaro had four goals and two assists for the Tar Heels, who had lost twice to the Terps this season, including in the ACC title game. Cannizzaro, a senior, is elated that the Tar Heels' women's lacrosse program will get to hang a national-title plaque next to the 21 owned by the school's women's soccer program. The women's basketball program won its lone crown in 1994.
"It's nice we get to put a little plaque up next to our women's soccer team," Cannizzaro said. "I think it's going to propel the program. I have faith that they'll be back and this is the first of many."