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Olivia Dirks should have an increased role in the midfield this spring.

2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 1 North Carolina (Women)

February 3, 2023
Beth Ann Mayer
Andy Mead
The 2023 college lacrosse season is almost here. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.
Check back to each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.


2022 Record: 22-0 (8-0 ACC)
Final Ranking (2022): No. 1
Coach: Jenny Levy


Emily Nalls, D, Sr.; Brooklyn Walker-Welch, D, So.; Caitlyn Wurzburger, A, Jr.

Depth was a hallmark of the 2022 team — and that’s paying dividends. Despite some of the significant losses, plenty of talent returns. Emily Nalls (22 CT) and Brooklyn Walker-Welch (19 CT) led UNC in caused turnovers last year. Caitlyn Wurzburger (34 G, 42 A), who came to UNC after a heralded high school career, will take the reins on offense.


Lauren Figura, A, Gr. (Saint Joseph's); Sophie Student, M, Jr. (Virginia Tech)

The Tar Heels dipped into the transfer portal over the summer. Lauren Figura comes to the ‘Heels for a fifth season after leading St. Joe’s to a title in the A-10 — the same conference as last year’s championship ringer Sam Geiersbach. Sophie Student tallied 50 points in 18 starts last year at Virginia Tech. Several freshmen could make early impacts, too.


Graduations: Andie Aldave, A; Sam Geiersbach, A; Scottie Rose Growney, A; Ally Mastroianni, M; Taylor Moreno, G; Jamie Ortega, A; Emma Trenchard, D 
Transfer: Tayler Warehime, M (Florida)


After starting the last three seasons reeling from a heartbreaking semifinal loss, the ‘Heels begin 2023 as the defending champion. But it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. The ‘Heels lost all-timers and legendary transfers, including five of their top six scorers, All-American goalie Taylor Moreno and IWLCA Defender of the Year Emma Trenchard.

The chip is still there but with a twist.

“There’s no complacency at all,” Levy said. “If anything, the chip is that no one thinks we can do it because we lost so many players.”

It’s different from the Heels of 2017, who returned key pieces from the 2016 national championship team and bowed out in the quarterfinals.

“Because of the holes, this next generation of players is excited to leave their legacy on the program and put their own personal style and stamp on the program,” Levy said. “There may be some things that don’t come as easy as last year, but this group is hungry.”

It’s Caitlyn Wurzburger’s time.

Caitlyn Wurzburger came to UNC as the top recruit in her class following a legendary high school career at American Heritage Boca-Delray (Fla.). Make no mistake, she’s had a solid two years, but she often deferred to the players before her.

With all-timers Ortega (69 G, 44 A), Growney (56 G, 20 A) and Mastroianni (48 G, 136 DC) and key transfers Geiersbach (37 G, 27 A) Aldave (51 G, 12 A), Wurzburger will hop into the driver’s seat. Clear the roads — Levy says the expert finisher is ready and has added new dimensions to her game.

“Because Jamie was so good off ball, we didn’t need that from her,” Levy said. “We’ve continued to develop out her game and make it multi-faceted.”

Wurzburger won’t go it alone. Olivia Dirks (20 G, 5 A, 36 DC), who played with the U.S. national team in the Fall Classic, has improved stickwork and benefited from playing behind Mastroianni. She’ll likely be a key cog in the circle. Elizabeth Hillman (10 G, 4 A, 32 DC) is a “great playmaker” whose been hampered by injuries. Levy said she spent fall building strength — the ‘Heels need her on the field and health this season. Lauren Figura will try to channel some of the same magic of Geiersbach in 2023.

Can Alecia Nicholas step into her new role as starter?

Carolina graduated saves leader Taylor Moreno last season. But, before Moreno officially went out as champion, the world got a glimpse of her successor in Nicholas. Nicholas entered the semifinal game against Northwestern with UNC trailing in the third quarter. The Tar Heels had no doubt she could hold it down until Moreno was mentally ready to re-enter — in 2023, they have no doubt she can step into the starting role.

“She’s a very positive voice in cage,” Levy said. “She’s learning the style of the defenders in front of her and what types of feedback they need when they are on and off ball…we have a lot of confidence in her.”

Those defenders ahead of her will include a pair of starters with international experience. Nalls, who led UNC with 49 ground balls, took bronze with England at the World Lacrosse Women’s World Championship. 

“She’s a beast defensively,” Levy said. “She has a motor that doesn’t quit. She’s really competitive.”

Walker-Welch earned silver with Canada at the world championship and struck gold in Sixes. 

“She’s a stud,” Levy said. “She’s a dominant, dominant defender. She’s great 1on1

The duo’s return softens the loss of Trenchard (12 CT, 20 GB). 


“I mean, it’s UNC. They lost a lot of players, but they reload every year. I anticipate them being very difficult.”

“They are just so loaded with talent year after year that it’s baffling what you have to do to compete against them.”


141.1 EGA

Like moths to a flame, the transfer portal means that success tends to attract players. Look no further than North Carolina. EGA is my metric to measure all the good and bad things that a player does. And the players who are transferring into Chapel Hill this year did a lot in 2022. The Heels are importing a total of 141.1 EGA via the transfer portal, which is tops in Division I women’s lacrosse.

Lacrosse Reference Glossary