Lacrosse: Title time: NU heads to semifinals

Colin Becht

A friendly rivalry.

The idea seems like an oxymoron. How can a rivalry, a relationship typically characterized by animosity and hatred, be amicable and harmonious?

As strange a concept as a friendly rivalry may be, that’s the bond between Northwestern and North Carolina. Despite the fact that both programs are perennial elites, and their matchups often come with a lot on the line, ties off the field keep the Wildcats and the Tar Heels cordial.

“We have a great rivalry with them,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “A lot of our girls are actually friendly with their girls, and some of them work my camps.”

Senior midfielder Colleen Magarity said she knows several of the players at North Carolina from playing together before college. Magarity will now go up against those former teammates for the seventh time in her career as the Cats take on the Tar Heels in the semifinals of the NCAA Championships on Friday night.

“It’s going to be a good fight,” Magarity said. “But it’s like, I know it sounds cliché, good sportsmanship.”

There might not be hostility between the teams, who are meeting for the third consecutive year in the NCAA Championship’s final weekend, but the aggression and focus will be present, as the Cats try to play their way into a seventh straight championship game.

North Carolina has the opportunity to reciprocate what NU did to the Tar Heels last year. North Carolina was the only team to beat NU in the regular season last year, but the Cats prevailed when it mattered most, downing the Tar Heels 15-10 in the NCAA semifinals. This year, NU took the regular season matchup, prevailing 7-6 in overtime.

Magarity said when these two meet, it’s “a very, very physical and a very well-played lacrosse game every single time.”

Despite NU’s win over North Carolina earlier this season, Amonte Hiller said she’s not reading too much into how that game was played. In a closely fought game, the Cats rallied from a two-goal deficit in the second half to force overtime, ultimately winning on a score from sophomore defender Taylor Thornton.

“I don’t think you can take that much away,” Amonte Hiller said. “A lot has happened, and it’s just going to be a measure of how much each team has improved.”

NU enters Friday’s contest with seven straight wins after dropping consecutive games for the first time since 2003.

“We’ve completely changed,” Magarity said. “We’ve been through a lot, and we’re a brand-new team.”

The Tar Heels also reloaded after their loss to NU, going 5-3 in a brutally tough Atlantic Coast Conference that sent three teams to the semifinals.

The tight defense North Carolina illustrated in holding NU to just seven goals – the Cats’ lowest total of the season – carried the Tar Heels throughout the year. They rank fifth in the nation with a goals-allowed average of just 8.3 per game.

“They’re just a very fundamentally sound defensive group of girls,” Magarity said. “They are very good at getting body positioning.”

Amonte Hiller said while she was satisfied with how the NU defense played against North Carolina last time, she’s hoping for more offensive production.

“Our defense played pretty well in that game. It’s going to take another great defensive effort,” Amonte Hiller said. “Our offense, not so much in that game, so we’re hoping for a better offensive effort than our first outing against them.”

The offense has momentum after its 18-goal showing against Albany in the second round. The Cats scored 13 goals in the first half, their team-high on the year..

Getting the NU offense going could be crucial as the Tar Heels’ loss to the Cats was their only loss this season in which their opponent scored fewer than 10 goals. NU may not be fortunate enough to get away with just seven goals again.

“It’s going to be a great matchup, just as it was the first time around,” Amonte Hiller said.

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