North Carolina Wins the 2016 ACC Women's Lacrosse Championship

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Messinger’s sudden-victory goal lifts Tar Heels past Syracuse

BLACKSBURG, Va. (theACC.com) – North Carolina’s 14-year wait is over, and it ended in dramatic fashion.

Aly Messinger’s sudden-victory goal off a pass from Kelly Devlin lifted the top-seeded Tar Heels to a 15-14 win over second-seeded Syracuse in Sunday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Women’s Lacrosse Championship final at Lane Stadium.

UNC (16-2) claimed its second ACC women’s lacrosse championship and its first since 2002. The Tar Heels pieced together an impressive resume in between conference titles – including the NCAA Championship three years ago – but regaining the ACC trophy had been an elusive quest until Sunday.

“It was a hell of a game,” said UNC veteran coach Jenny Levy, whose team trailed with less than two minutes remaining in regulation, took the lead, and then saw Syracuse tie the score on Kelly Cross’ goal as time expired. “Any time you play Syracuse, it’s a tough battle in so many different ways. I thought our kids did a great job of just being a total team today.”

Trailing 13-12, the nationally third-ranked Tar Heels got two huge defensive plays from senior Sammy Jo Tracy to regain the lead.

Tracy came up with a steal that led to her free-position goal that tied the score with 1:47 to play. Tracy then scooped up a ground ball on Syracuse’s ensuing possession, leading to Molly Hendrick’s close-range goal off an assist from Ela Hazar that put UNC in front 14-13.

The Tar Heels’ Marie McCool won the draw control following Hendrick’s goal, but the tournament MVP’s stick was ruled illegal. UNC still seemed set to win in regulation when the ball momentarily escaped the Orange as they attempted to look for the tying score with under five seconds remaining. But Kayla Treanor came up with possession for Syracuse and flipped to Cross, whose desperation shot found the back of the net and was ruled good as time expired.

Syracuse won the overtime draw, but a turnover tipped the scale in UNC’s favor. With the clock down to 45 seconds, Devlin found Messinger for the game-winner. The finish proved an about-face from last year’s ACC Championship game, which saw Syracuse edge the Tar Heels on a sudden victory goal in double-overtime, and it marked UNC’s second one-goal victory over the nationally fourth-ranked Orange this year.

“We had a lot of adversity down the stretch,” Levy said. “We were able to even up the score and get the go-ahead goal with 30 seconds left, and then it became an adventure. And then, obviously we were able to pull it out in overtime being two men down. This group has been tough, this group has been gritty and goal-oriented all year.”

Carly Reed led UNC with four goals – all in the first half – and Messinger’s game-winner gave her the hat trick. Tracy and Devlin added two goals apiece, and Messinger finished with a team-high two assists.

Halle Majorana scored four goals and had three assists to lead the Orange (16-5). Erica Bodt and Cross scored three goals apiece, and Treanor registered four assists.

“It was a hard-fought game between two very good teams,” Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said. “Sometimes things don’t go your way, and sometimes they do. It was a crazy last few minutes, and (UNC) just did what they had to do to win.

“They just came down and put the ball in the net. That was the difference. We didn’t get the stops we needed at the end, and we gave them the ball back a couple too many times.”

After trailing back by three goals at the midway point of the opening half, UNC fought back to force a 7-7 tie at the half.

Reed scored three goals unanswered in a span of less than four minutes to give the Tar Heels their first lead of the afternoon at 7-6 with 8:21 remaining before the break. Gabby Jaquith put in a free-position goal for Syracuse at the 2:44 mark, and the score remained even until intermission.

Majorana had two goals and an assist for the Orange in the opening 30 minutes. Treanor added a goal and two assists and had a second goal – which would have given Syracuse a 7-3 lead at the 13:57 mark – nullified by a penalty.

The Orange asserted itself again the outset of the second half, going up 11-8 on Bodt’s goal off a pass from Majorana with 13:02 to play. But Tracy countered for the Tar Heels less than two minutes later, and the comeback was on.

“This is a huge milestone,” Tracy said. “I know especially coming from our seniors … we haven’t won the ACC Tournament in a really long time. This was the next thing on our list, so one down and another one to go.”

That would be the 2016 NCAA Championship, and both UNC and Syracuse should be in prime position when seedings and pairings for that tournament are announced one week from tonight.

The 2016 ACC Women’s Lacrosse Championship All-Tournament Team:

Marie McCool, M, North Carolina – MVP
Molly Hendrick, A, North Carolina
Carly Reed, A, North Carolina
Mallory Frysinger, D, North Carolina
Megan Ward, GK, North Carolina
Kayla Treanor, A, Syracuse
Kelly Cross, M, Syracuse
Mallory Vehar, D, Syracuse
Barbara Sullivan, D, Notre Dame
Samantha Giacolone, GK, Notre Dame
Oliver Jenner, A, Duke
Kelsey Duryea, GK, Duke