It’s the most wonderful time of the year. No, not what Andy Williams was describing, with kids jingle belling and everyone embracing good cheer. It’s late March, so much of the country is caught up in the pure, unadulterated madness that is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The inherent unpredictability of the tournament lends itself to the prevalence of upsets, with the first two days being a constant stream of upsets.
When Boston College lacrosse took on the University of North Carolina at Newton Campus on Saturday, BC had the opportunity to notch another March upset before ultimately falling just short. UNC was able to score with just 28 seconds left, beating BC 14-13. Both the Eagles and the Tar Heels were ranked top five in the nation prior to the game-BC at five, and the Tar Heels occupying the top spot in the polls. It was BC’s second home game in a row against a team ranked No. 1-as the Eagles’ previous home game ended with an 11-9 loss to Syracuse on Feb. 26. After that game, the Eagles went on a four-game road trip, going 4-0 and winning by an average score of 14-7.75.
The Tar Heels took an early lead, scoring twice within the first 32 seconds of the game and making it initially look like UNC would easily surpass its season average of 18.67 goals per game. BC would not go down easily, though, scoring twice in the following three minutes to tie the game. That trend would continue throughout the entire game. UNC’s largest lead of the game was three, which came with 18 minutes left in the game. BC only had two leads in the game, at 6-5 and 7-6. Throughout the game, UNC would continually take the lead, only for the Eagles to fight back every time. The game featured seven ties in total.
“It’s very easy to go down two, three, four, five, six goals to a team like North Carolina,” said BC head coach Acacia Walker after the game. “My girls were resilient and committed to our goals, and that’s all I can ask from them.”
One of the players instrumental in keeping the Eagles close throughout the game was sophomore middie Sarah Mannelly. Mannelly tallied four goals and an assist for BC. Two of her goals tied the game, and a third gave BC its first lead of the game. Her fourth goal came after the Eagles had given up two straight to go down 12-9, starting a three-goal stretch that saw BC tie the game yet again.
“She’s someone that I personally rely on for a lot,” Walker said. “She’s great, she’s a great athlete. She’s probably one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen.”
After UNC took its early lead, BC’s defense stiffened up considerably, but not in the way most would tend to think: The Eagles’ defensive strategy seemed to center around a possession-based offense. Every time the Eagles advanced into their offensive zone, they moved deliberately, every movement calculated. BC constantly cycled at the top of the zone, attempting to open up one-on-one matchups.
The Eagles would overload one side or the other, leaving the ball handler alone to take on the UNC defender. Mannelly, Caroline Margolis, and Covie Stanwick were consistently asked to beat their defenders and drive to the crease, and they succeeded again and again, as UNC’s help was usually just a step too late. While UNC had been giving up an average of 8.11 goals per game, BC had nearly eclipsed that mark by halftime, a mark of how efficient the Eagles were on offense.
On the defensive end, BC had its game plan and stuck with it. The Eagles were able to hold UNC to well below its season scoring average, as goalie Emily Mata made seven saves against the Tar Heels, five coming in the second half. UNC’s passing was crisp and clean, allowing the Tar Heels to expand BC’s defensive zone and exploit the open spaces.
Defensive stalwart Claire Blohm, who was wearing No. 19 for the game in honor of Welles Crowther, was a force in the second half. When faced with a one-on-one, Blohm was consistently able to keep her mark in front of her, slamming the door on numerous chances. Blohm was able to anticipate where her help defense would be needed, but she still had the speed to recover to her own mark afterwards.
The Tar Heels’ final goal came with just 28 seconds left after Aly Messinger was given a free position. Messinger converted, scoring her fifth goal of the game, which paced the Tar Heels. BC had several final opportunities, but its shots went wide as time expired, leaving the Eagles at 7-2 on the year.
In their second big home ACC test of the year, the Eagles may not have come out on top, but they proved their mettle. The Eagles may not be happy with the outcome, but there were positives to take away.
“I tell my girls, even against Syracuse and North Carolina, that losing’s not accepted in our culture, but as long as we stay committed to what we’re working on, then that’s something to be proud of,” Walker said. “No real acceptance of the loss, but I think it creates a little bit of drive and fuel for our team. We’ve just got to do a couple things better here and there, and maybe the outcome will be different next time.”