Cannizzaro, Heels rely on ‘toughness’ against Cavs
Whether it’s forcing a ground ball, causing a turnover or driving to goal, Kara Cannizzaro brings a scrappiness and a fierce competitiveness to No. 3 North Carolina.
UNC coach Jenny Levy said it comes from her upbringing.
“She’s one of four kids, and the other three kids in the family are boys,” Levy said. “So she had a choice at a young age to either be submissive or to fight for every inch.”
Cannizzaro chose to fight, and the senior captain’s attitude defines the Tar Heels (15-3), who host unseeded Virginia (11-9) in an NCAA Tournament quarterfinal today at 1 p.m. at Fetzer Field.
“I think our team has had a very big element of toughness (and resiliency), and I definitely think that comes from our leadership,” Levy said. “They bring this scrappy, back-alley, dog mentality.”
Cannizzaro, one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, leads the team in goals (60), points (67) and caused turnovers (27) and is second in ground balls (29). She scored four goals in UNC’s 8-7 win over Virginia two months ago, including the winner with 6:49 left.
“Coming from an athletic background obviously helps when you get in tough situations and you’ve been competitive your whole life,” Cannizzaro said.
Cannizzaro grew up in upstate New York with brothers Chris, who played hockey for Hobart; Sean, a sophomore attackman at Denver; and Connor, a top-10 lacrosse recruit who is headed to Maryland.
The Tar Heels have won seven in a row against Virginia and 13 straight NCAA Tournament home games, but Levy said the group isn’t overconfident.
“Every game’s different, and you just have to go in and prepare for the present,” Levy said. “We know Virginia well because they’re in our conference, but it’s still going to be a different game than any game we’ve ever played against them, so you have to show up and take care of your business on game day.”
Cannizzaro’s winner against Virginia helped compensate for the Cavs’ 12-5 edge in draw controls. UNC most likely needs to close that gap in order to make it back for the fourth time in five years.
Meanwhile, Cannizzaro’s sibling rivalries continue. She’s considering rooting against her brother Sean when Denver faces UNC in an NCAA men’s lacrosse quarterfinal on Sunday at Indianapolis.
“I definitely will be tuning in on Sunday,” Cannizzaro said. “I don’t know who I’m going to be cheering for — it’s going to be hard.”
NOTES — The winner will face either No. 2 Northwestern and No. 7 Penn State in Friday’s semifinals at Villanova, Pa. ... UNC is looking to knock Virginia out of the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in seven years. ... Levy played at Virginia from 1988-92 and was a teammate of Cavs coach Julie Myers. Levy (then Jenny Slingluff) led Virginia to its first NCAA title in 1991.