For the first 10 minutes of the Final Four matchup between UNC and Boston College it looked very similar to the matchup on March 6th in which the Tar Heels dominated the Eagles 21-9. Then, around the 20 minute mark of the first half something happened. The BC defenders not matchup up against #3 in white lightened up the pressure. Instead of chasing UNC attackers all over the offensive zone, they simply placed their heels outside the 8 meter and let UNC make mistakes.
First the first 10 minutes Jamie Ortega looked like the best player in lacrosse. She had a goal and two assists and was playing with more energy than she has all season. She wasn’t going to let her teammate Katie Hoeg leave Chapel Hill without a National Title. A warning sign of things to come was Ortega not taking a free position 8 meter to goal after a yellow card on Boston College. The Phoebe Day yellow card came at 26:14. The game was tied but UNC was dominating the draw circle and possession.
In almost every game this year, Ortega has been unstoppable from the 8 meter in a free position shot situation. It isn’t even a free throw for her, it is more like a lay up. While Ortega did assist Katie Hoeg and put the Tar Heels up 2-1 during that yellow card, why did Ortega not go to goal?
With 18:18 left in the first half Scottie Rose Growney got on the scoreboard and put the Tar Heels up 4-2. After that, we didn’t hear from her for the rest of the game. After going up 4-2, the Tar Heels struggled to get quality shots. Boston College allowed freshman Sydney Scales to face guard Ortega but the rest of the defense eased the pressure. They dared anyone not named Ortega to beat them. Time and again Ally Mastroianni, Scottie Rose Growney, Tayler Warehime and Kerrigan Miller went to goal and BC did not slide. In the previous matchup, BC slid defenders into driver UNC attackers and left Ortega and others open to cut.
Boston College learned from the Duke game that if Jamie Ortega is not scoring for UNC, they are beatable. In fact, they aren’t just beatable, they are an average team. By the end of the first half, BC goalie Rachel Hall looked like the Tewaaraton Award finalist, not Taylor Moreno. UNC had 18 shots in the first half and only scored 5 goals. Down 8-5 at halftime most would expect UNC to come out firing in the 2nd half. The opposite happened. Boston College extended their lead to 11-6 with around 15 minutes to go in the game.
The Boston College defense seemed unbeatable. Kerrigan Miller had two shots right in front of the goal and missed. Tayler Warehime had two costly turnovers. Scottie Rose Growney was shooting shots that weren’t even close to the goal. The perfect storm was Jamie Ortega could do nothing to get free from Sydney Scales.
Even though BC didn’t score for the final 15 minutes of the game, they were able to hold off UNC and advance to the National Championship game with an 11-10 victory.
There were many signs of this UNC women’s lacrosse team being vulnerable during the second half of the season. While they defeated both teams in the National Championship with a running clock, they were not the same team after the Notre Dame game. Against Notre Dame Bridget Deehan had one of the best goalie performances of the year. What all other elite women’s lacrosse coaches saw that day was UNC was an average team without Ortega. Ortega scored five goals that game and basically willed UNC to the victory. Four of her five goals were unassisted.
Flash forward to the National Semifinal. Acacia Walker-Weinstein had been to the prior three National Championship games. She won many National Championships as an assistant coach at Northwestern. She won National Championships at Maryland as a player. She knows lacrosse and knows how to coach and make adjustments. She basically told her team to guard their woman and not slide even if they were beat. The rest was up to goalie Rachel Hall.
Rachel Hall was great. Bridget Deehan was great back in March. What we realized is UNC is not great when it comes to attackers not named Ortega shooting. Ally Mastroianni, Scottie Rose Growney, Tayler Warehime and Kerrigan Miller were basically non existent on the UNC attack. Versus Boston College these four attackers/midfielders were 3-20 shooting.
One has to wonder if this is the recipe to beat UNC in the future. UNC’s offense is built on passing and moving the ball. They do not have an offensive player that can take the ball one v one and score at will. There is not a Charlotte North on the team. During their championship runs of 2013 and 2016 there were players like Kara Cannizzaro, Sammy Jo Tracy, Molly Hendrick and Marie McCool that could take a defender 1v1 and score. While Jamie Ortega will go down as the greatest scorer in UNC history (possibly NCAA history) she does not excel going one v one. She is a cutter and a slasher that catches anything near her stick and puts it in the goal before the defense has a chance to react.
Her game is very similar to former UNC basketball great Antawn Jamison. Jamison was great when he could react quick and not let the defense get set up. When the defense got set up, he was much less effective. The same is true with Ortega. She may be one of the best transition players to ever play the game. She is definitely one of the top 3 cutters to ever wear a women’s lacrosse jersey. She is not the type of player to get the ball and go to the goal and score unassisted.
UNC’s transition offense was non existent during the Final Four game versus BC. Much of this was because Taylor Moreno was not making saves and starting the transition. The UNC defense played their asses off but things just did not go as planned.
The most depressing part of this loss was the fact UNC attackers were lazy throughout much of the game. There was a ball sitting on the ground in the midfield and Scottie Rose Growney allowed a BC defender to go around and get it. There were numerous times in which Kayla Wood was running around in the UNC attack zone looking for someone to pass it to and no UNC attackers would get the ball.
UNC’s defense was great the entire season. They did everything asked of them. What became very apparent versus Boston College was UNC’s attack became Ortega, Hoeg and Wurzburger at the end of the season. If defenses didn’t slide off Ally Mastroianni, Scottie Rose Growney, Tayler Warehime and Kerrigan Miller these UNC attackers were going to shoot and often miss. Or shoot right into the goalie’s body. Rachel Hall looked like a stone wall but most of the UNC shots were right into her body.
It was a great season and UNC showed glimpses of being the best women’s college lacrosse team ever. The middle 40 minutes versus Syracuse, the second half versus BC and the first half of Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament all come to mind. Unfortunately, the lack of firepower from the UNC attack proved that this team wasn’t even the best team of 2021, no less of all time.