Even as her team held a commanding, eight-goal lead over Northwestern with about 10 minutes remaining, North Carolina midfielder Abbey Friend never felt a trip to the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship game was secure.
Given the Wildcats' resumé - seven national titles in eight years - the third-seeded Tar Heels didn't relent in an 11-4 victory on Friday night in a national semifinal at Villanova Stadium. With the win, North Carolina reached its second championship game in program history. The Tar Heels are seeking their first national title.
"[It was] definitely in the back of my mind, how many national championships they have and how successful they've been in the final stretch of their seasons," said Friend, who scored three times. "But I think today we really came out strong and held onto that."
North Carolina's second win over Northwestern this season was also its first NCAA tournament victory against the Wildcats in five tries. Freshman goalkeeper Megan Ward used all of her 5-foot-2 frame in totaling seven stops, and Tar Heel midfielder Kara Cannizzaro's four unanswered, second-half goals put the game out of reach.
"After shooting on Megan all year and having her stuff a lot of my shots [in practice], I have confidence if I get beat or give up a good shot that Megan's going to come up with a huge save, no matter who's shooting or where they're shooting from," Cannizzaro said.
Northwestern entered Friday averaging just under 13 goals per game but didn't score until nearly 14 minutes in, when Amanda Macaluso scored to cut UNC's lead to 2-1. The Tar Heels answered that goal with a 5-0 run lasting until the Wildcats' Alyssa Leonard scored at the 20-minute, 29-second mark of the second half.
The No. 2-seeded Wildcats matched their lowest goal total of the season. Tar Heels double-teams kept Northwestern's offense stifled all night.