When North Carolina handed the Boston College women’s lacrosse team its first loss of the season, 15-13, in the ACC championship game April 28, it came with the Tar Heels’ backup goalkeeper, Elise Hennessey, in net.
The Eagles scored six goals in the opening nine minutes, prompting North Carolina to pull sophomore goalie Taylor Moreno, who holds the nation’s fourth-highest save percentage at .534. The switch in net invigorated the Tar Heels while the Eagles slowed down and eventually lost at Alumni Stadium.
But the defeat had a positive impact on the Eagles and coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein. It has motivated them as they head into Friday’s rematch with UNC in the national semifinals at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore.
“I learned how badly this team wants to win because of the way they responded to the loss,” said Walker-Weinstein. “They showed and proved to me in their work ethic how badly they really want this.
“I thought they had been working hard but I’ve seen a level of work ethic I have never seen before.”
In two matchups against UNC this season, BC (21-1) recorded the two highest goal totals allowed by the Tar Heels (17-3). That included a 14-8 win in the regular season.
In their most recent meeting, however, Sam Apuzzo and Kenzie Kent, the Eagles’ top attacking players who have combined for 235 points this season, were held in check, combining for just five goals, with four coming before halftime.
For a UNC team allowing 8.3 goals per game, seventh-best in the country, the first half of the ACC title game was a forgettable one. But a strong second half lifted the Tar Heels to a conference championship and sparked their run to the Final Four.
“We let in six really quick, easy goals,” said UNC coach Jenny Levy. “We felt like we needed to make the switch to kind of wake our defense up, and Elise was seeing the ball really well.”
Since that game, Moreno has not missed a second of action, stopping 23 of the 41 shots on goal she has faced. That includes 12 saves and a .632 save percentage in an NCAA quarterfinal victory over Virginia, 14-7 — her second-highest save percentage in a 60-minute effort this season.
“Taylor’s been great through the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament,” said Levy. “She came back to Chapel Hill, reworked some things, and just got into a rhythm again.”
The Eagles have made adjustments on the offensive end, which resulted in 39 goals over two NCAA tournament games. Apuzzo, a favorite for this year’s Tewaaraton Award as the nation’s top player, has struck 11 times.
“We refreshed our X’s and O’s on offense, and I think we made some really good tweaks,” said Walker-Weinstein. “We just have to maintain our steady heads.
“We made some exciting additions so we’re pumped to be able to have a chance to put those into play against UNC again.”
Other New England title contenders
■ On Sunday, Merrimack (16-3) will take on top-seeded Limestone (20-0) in the NCAA Division 2 men’s lacrosse national championship game, a rematch of the 2017 title matchup won by Limestone, 11-9.
In a 15-14 semifinal thriller against Northeast-10 rival Le Moyne, Merrimack fell behind with 26 seconds left in regulation before junior Dom Thomas tied the game with only four seconds remaining. Dom’s brother Christian, a sophomore, netted the overtime winner, his 50th goal of the season, to send Merrimack to the final in Philadelphia.
Merrimack attackman Charlie Bertrand is the nation’s top scorer, tallying 74 goals. Limestone has the top-scoring offense in the country, averaging 17.6 goals per game, while allowing just 8.2, fourth-fewest at the D2 level.
■ After a hard-fought win over archrival Williams, the Amherst men’s lacrosse team earned a spot in the Division 3 national championship game for the first time in program history. Amherst (18-3) will face Cabrini (21-2) Sunday in Philadelphia.
Trailing, 8-7, after three quarters in the semifinal vs. Williams, Amherst rattled off a five-goal outburst in the final quarter while blanking Williams.
Sunday’s game will pit a high-scoring Amherst offense (18.1 goals per game) against a Cabrini defense that has allowed just 6.32 goals per game this season.
■ On the women’s side in Division 3, Tufts (19-2) will take on Salisbury (19-3) in a national semifinal Saturday in Ashland, Va.
Tufts is among the nation’s most defensively sound teams, allowing just 7.58 goals per game and recording a shutout in its NCAA tournament opener against Plymouth State. But it could be a battle of attrition against an equally tough Salisbury squad allowing only 7.7 goals per game.
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @DanielRShulman.