Cannizzaro, Tar Heels swap commencement for NCAA win
For most North Carolina graduating seniors, Mother's Day usually is spent in Kenan Stadium listening to commencement speeches and turning tassels on graduation caps.
But UNC women's lacrosse midfielder Kara Cannizzaro had done that nearly two weeks ago at a special graduation celebration designated for student-athletes.
So on Sunday afternoon, Cannizzaro left her cap and gown behind and donned her No. 15 jersey for the second-to-last time and helped her team advance to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament by defeating Loyola 19-9 in the second round at Fetzer Field.
"We couldn't go to the graduation ceremony, but I'd rather be playing in an NCAA game than go to graduation any day," the Tewaaraton Award finalist said. "It was awesome, and it was really fun to look up in the stands and see our friends in graduation gowns."
Cannizzaro's mother Katie only missed two games this season, and she was sure to make it to Chapel Hill for what would have been her daughter's graduation day.
But instead of snapping pictures of her daughter posing with friends in front of the Old Well, she cheered her on from the sidelines of a field that has grown to be a second home for the Cannizzaro family.
"They already did those photos, so I'd rather have her play here than walk at graduation," Katie Cannizzaro said. "It's more exciting."
And perhaps the game was more exciting than an endless procession of undergrads and academics, because though No. 3 UNC had the home-field advantage and a higher seed, the No. 11 Greyhounds didn't go away quietly.
With less than a minute off the clock, Loyola netted the game's first goal when Taryn VanThof made an aggressive move to the front of the cage and scored an unassisted goal.
But Cannizzaro quickly countered Loyola's goal with one of her own minutes later to tie the game. The senior captain's goal sparked the Tar Heels on a 5-0 run before the Greyhounds netted back-to-back goals.
"We got up 5-1 off of some scrambled pieces," UNC coach Jenny Levy said. "But I thought they challenged us to do some different things, and they play a certain type of defense that challenged us a little bit."
After a two-goal advantage at halftime, the Tar Heels unleashed a deluge of goals on the Greyhounds in the final 30 minutes — outscoring Loyola 12-4 after the break.
Again, Cannizzaro started the scoring for UNC and opened the half with a goal less than two minutes in. She added two more goals in the second half to tie her career high with five goals, and bumped her season total to 50 goals.
Cannizzaro didn't just tie her career high Sunday afternoon — she did it with 100 percent accuracy, scoring her five goals on only five shots.
The win is UNC's 13th straight at home in the NCAA Tournament, and the team moves to 14-1 when hosting an NCAA Tournament game.
The Tar Heels will move on to face ACC foe Virginia next weekend, and again UNC will have a home-field advantage — the final one this season.
"Playing on Fetzer Field is a really unique opportunity for everybody, and it still takes my breath away every time I step on the field, even after three years here," junior Abbey Friend said. "It's really exciting to be able to play here for two rounds, and we know that we're not finished on Fetzer yet."