TOWSON, Md. — As fans decked out in Boston College lacrosse’s signature neon yellow t-shirts swarmed her team, head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein stood about 30 yards back, all by herself, with her hands at her mouth in disbelief. Snippets of the net adorned the Eagles’ necks like the finest jewelry, and Cara Urbank, exhausted from a rush of adrenaline and 60 minutes of championship-level lacrosse, hoisted the trophy above her head.
All Walker-Weinstein could do was stand back and admire.
The Eagles, haunted by the shadow of three straight crushing National Championship losses, had every reason to win. After taking down seemingly untouchable UNC in the semifinals, BC had proven it was a National Championship team. It was only a matter of time before the confetti cannons shot maroon and gold streamers.
In its fourth straight National Championship appearance, and after three long years of heartbreak, fourth-seeded BC (18-3) finally sealed the deal with a 16-10 win over No. 3 Syracuse (17-4), claiming the Eagles’ first ever national title. For Walker-Weinstein, an NCAA title wasn’t just a goal, it was the goal.
“We had a dream a long time ago that we were going to win a championship, and people told us we were crazy. And we just did it,” Walker-Weinstein said in her postgame press conference.
And the milestones don’t end there. All season long, Charlotte North has been inching toward the perfect season. Broken record after broken record, she has cemented herself as one of the greatest players—if not the greatest—to ever don the maroon and gold. The one record it took her all 21 games to break? The NCAA record for goals in a single season—100, set by Stony Brook’s Courtney Murphy.
North, not one to be outdone, scored six goals in the title game, good for 102 on the season, only adding to her list of accolades. Not to mention, she was this year’s NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Fittingly, North’s 97th goal was the first of the game. She surprised Asa Goldstock with a shot through her five-hole just over two minutes in. Urbank made it 2-1 for BC on a free-position shot after Syracuse’s Sam Swart had tied it up at one.
In another minute came goal number 98 for North, a long-distance rocket that snuck inside the post.
Perhaps the most pivotal moment of the first half came 12 minutes into the contest. With a clear look at goal, Urbank fired a point-blank shot, which rang off the post and straight into the awaiting stick of Goldstock. Four scoreless minutes after Emma Tyrrell slotted one home in transition, the Orange once again had a fast break, and freshman standout Emma Ward picked the corner on the run to tie the game up at three apiece.
The momentum had suddenly swung in the Orange’s favor, and Syracuse wasn’t stopping there. A save by Rachel Hall was called back as a free-position shot, and though the Eagles stopped the initial attempt and wore the shot clock down to single digits, Sierra Cockerille slotted one home to take the Orange’s first lead of the game.
Maybe it was the pressure of the national stage, or maybe the teams were just that evenly matched, but BC and Syracuse traded the lead back and forth five times in the first half alone. The biggest run of the half was that 3-0 sprint capped off with Cockerille’s goal.
Just minutes after Tyrrell—the Orange’s fourth leading point scorer—recorded her first goal of the game, officials handed down her second yellow card, ejecting her from the game and putting a damper on Syracuse’s otherwise dominant offense.
Whether or not her absence made a difference on the scoresheet, the wind was back in BC’s sails. Each time BC opened up a lead, Syracuse whittled it back down, and every time Syracuse scored, the Eagles matched it.
Belle Smith, as she has for much of the season, put on a stick work clinic in the first half. Her first goal of the day came on a highlight reel–worthy shot from the left post. With possession of the ball and her right shoulder to the left goal post, Smith went up and over her defender to sneak the ball past Goldstock, breaking the 4-4 tie.
North’s 99th goal came in the waning minutes of the first half, as she wrapped around the goal, faked low to Goldstock, and slotted it into the back of the net.
By the time the first half whistle sounded, BC led by one after facing a tie six different times. Had Ward not snuck one past Hall with 23 seconds on the clock, BC would have had a two-goal lead and plenty of momentum coming out of the locker room.
As it turned out, BC didn’t need either of those things. A nail-biting first half gave way to a clinic on both ends of the field for the Eagles.
Syracuse’s signature play is a three- or four-man weave at the top of the arc, and throughout the first half, it looked to be the Eagles’ downfall. While BC’s offense operates mostly from behind the cage, they struggled to contain the Orange in the front of the cage. In the second half, Syracuse barely had the ball in the offensive zone, and when it did, BC had found the key to locking down the top of the arc.
After that late first-half goal, as her teammates departed for the locker room, Hall never left the field, and instead spent the break taking shots from an assistant coach. Whatever she did worked, and she finished the game with nine saves.
The most noticeable difference from the first half to the second wasn’t BC’s scoring, as the Eagles actually scored fewer goals despite looking much more dominant, but was instead the effort in the midfield. Though the Eagles dominated possession, the few times Syracuse had the ball in its offensive zone more often than not resulted in forced turnovers.
Hollie Schleicher led the second-half charge, finishing the game with five ground balls, two caused turnovers, and eight draw controls, many of which she had to fight tooth and nail for.
“My teammates played outstanding today,” Schleicher said, crediting her fellow Eagles for her success. “I could not have done that alone. There’s no way in hell. But, I mean, I’m just happy, lucky, grateful to be here.”
The record-tying goal No. 100 for North could not have been in more of her hallmark fashion. North, who differentiates herself from the rest of the pack with a sidearm shot, wrapped around Goldstock’s right side and fired a hip-level rocket into the back of the net. Even tied for the national record, North said her individual performance was far from her mind.
“I’m just thinking about this win today,” North said. “It was a full team effort. And that’s all I’m thinking about. … Acacia said we were going to come out hungry and play our best for 60 minutes, [and] we were going to win. We believed in that. We believed in each other.”
It took nine more minutes to log No. 101, which she did on a free-position opportunity. North took the ball in her stick, wound up, and fired a sidearm laser into the netting to take a 13-9 lead.
Syracuse added one more before the end of the game, but BC padded its lead over and over, putting the result well out of doubt. With one minute left on the clock, Walker-Weinstein stifled a smile, and when the final horn sounded, the BC sideline erupted off the bench. “We Are The Champions” blasted through the loudspeakers of Johnny Unitas Stadium.
For the first time, BC could sing along.
“I just wanted to take a minute to take a look at the girls with their families, because a big part of our philosophy is incorporating the families,” Walker-Weinstein said of looking on at her team. “That was sort of taken from us this year. So I just wanted to take a minute to see the girls hugging their moms and dads and the alums and just take that moment in. Because it is, it’s a family operation. And that was a moment I wanted to cherish.”
Featured Image by Greg Fiume Courtesy of NCAA Photos