Advancing to its fourth consecutive national championship game was a tall order for the Boston College women’s lacrosse team. Though they have established themselves as a juggernaut on the Division 1 level, the Eagles entered this season with a young roster. Headed into Friday’s Final Four, many thought undefeated North Carolina, which had two of the nation’s top four scorers in Jamie Ortega and Katie Hoeg, would be too much for a new-look Eagles squad.
The roster’s youth didn’t matter. What did was BC’s trademark tenacity. The Eagles came back from an early deficit to upset the Tar Heels, 11-10, in Friday’s semifinal in Towson, Md., at Johnny Unitas Stadium.
The Eagles will play Syracuse, a 21-13 winner over Northwestern, in Sunday’s finale. The game is at noon on ESPNU.
“This is a very young group, and they have never been in this moment before,” said nine-year BC coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein. “But they are extremely coachable.”
One of those newcomers is junior goaltender Rachel Hall, who transferred to BC (17-3) last spring from Oregon seeking that next level of competition. She rose to the occasion against UNC, equaling her season-high 11 saves. It wasn’t easy against the top-seeded Tar Heels (20-1), who defeated BC, 21-9, in ACC play in March, but she was prepared thanks to the offseason addition of Billy Bitter. a former All-American for the UNC men’s team, as an assistant coach for the Eagles.
“Rachel has been working hard all year,” said Walker-Weinstein. “We brought in Billy to work with our goalies. There has been such a great work ethic. They have been studying shooters all year.”
BC got off to a hot start, winning the opening draw. National scoring leader Charlotte North found herself double teamed by the Tar Heels and was forced to pass to Caitlynn Mossman. The junior slid a shot past UNC goalie Taylor Moreno to put the Eagles up, 1-0, just 1:18 into the game.
But then BC’s offense stalled. UNC won the next draw control, and their depth was on full display. Though BC’s defense covered Ortega, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer, she connected with Caitlyn Wurzburger for their first goal. UNC dominated the next seven minutes of play, with both Ortega and Katie Hoeg scoring to open up a 3-1 lead.
The Eagles got their feet back under them. Courtney Weeks picked up a smart groundball to extend an Eagles’ possession, leading to freshman Belle Smith’s 45th goal of the season, bringing BC within one.
Two minutes later, Scottie Rose Growney extended UNC’s lead on a free position shot. The Eagles answered with Jenn Medjid’s and North’s first goals of the game, tying the game, 4-4.
Shortly after, Medjid gave BC its first lead in 16 minutes, rolling past a Tar Heels defender to score. She added a third goal two minutes later, putting the Eagles up by two before a UNC goal from Kerrigan Miller stopped the run.
After Moreno and Hall traded saves, Weeks added to BC’s lead with a goal off a free position shot. Cassidy Weeks, her twin, scored with 12.5 seconds left to give the Eagles an 8-5 lead at halftime.
Mossman scored quickly for BC in the second half. She was set up after a forced turnover by midfielder Phoebe Day, who stopped a grade-A attempt by UNC’s Ortega. Wurzburger followed with a UNC goal.
The Eagles defense didn’t relent, disrupting UNC’s game plan and causing frustration.
“We were a little impatient today, and it played into what BC was doing on defense,” said Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy.
North and Medjid extended BC’s lead to 11-6. UNC’s defense held BC scoreless for the rest of the game, but Hall played remarkably. After the Tar Heels scored two quick goals, Hall made a snappy save on a free position shot to pause the Tar Heels momentum.
Hoeg brought UNC within two with five minutes left. Hall made another stellar save, this time with her hip, to force a turnover, and followed with a save on a shot by Ortega just in front of her facemask. Frustration caused UNC to receive two yellow cards in the final 1:12, and BC fought off a shorthanded surge by the Tar Heels for the victory.