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Emily Nalls (pictured) and Brooklyn Walker-Welch anchored a stout North Carolina defense in 2023.

2023 Women's Top 30: How North Carolina Fared vs. Projections

August 4, 2023
Beth Ann Mayer
Nell Redmond

Before USA Lacrosse Magazine looks ahead to what’s to come in 2024, our team of staff and contributors decided it was worth taking one last look at 2023.

After all, you have to look at the most recent results before making projections for what’s to come. To do that, we’re taking a journey through the top 30 teams in men’s and women’s lacrosse — what went right, what went wrong and what we should all think of that team’s season.

Was it a success? A failure? A mixture of both? You’ll find out our thoughts over the next month or so.


Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason/Final Top 20 Ranking: 1/5
2023 record: 16-5 (7-2 ACC)


North Carolina was a bit of a suspicious pick to top our preseason poll. Despite being the reigning champions, the Tar Heels graduated much of their core from a spectacular title-winning 2022 season, including all-timers Jamie Ortega, Ally Mastroianni, Emma Trenchard, Taylor Moreno and Scottie Rose Growney, among others.

But it was only a rebuilding year by modern-day UNC standards. Plenty of talent was returning, including Caitlyn Wurzburger and a goalie in Alecia Nicholas, who the coaching staff had trusted to go in with the Heels down big against Northwestern in the Final Four. In other words? My vote went to the Tar Heels.

Ultimately, UNC had one of the best “rebuilding” years you’ll find. Wurzburger made her mark with 72 points on 37 goals and 35 assists. But new faces emerged as future leaders. Redshirt sophomore Reilly Casey was one, tying Wurzburger for the team lead in points and pacing the Tar Heels with 38 goals. Even more promising for UNC’s prospects over the next few years: Rookies Caroline Godine (31 G, 24 A) and Marissa White (46 G, 3 A) also became key offensive cogs. Nicholas anchored a defensive unit that once again ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense (8.43), getting help from All-Americans Brooklyn Walker-Welch and Emily Nalls.

After losing to Syracuse 14-12 on Senior Day in Chapel Hill, UNC dominated from start to finish in a 15-9 ACC semifinal win to advance to the league finals for the seventh-straight year and later earned the No. 4 seed into the NCAA tournament.


The Tar Heels saw multiple streaks end. Northwestern snapped their 47-game regular-season winning streak in a Final Four grudge match on March 19. Notre Dame ended the 27-game conference winning streak. And rival Boston College stopped UNC from claiming a seventh straight league title. But the biggest blow came when UNC ran into Denver’s zone defense in the quarterfinals. The Pioneers held the Tar Heels scoreless in the second half, going on to win 5-4 and ending UNC’s hopes of a repeat.


UNC entered the ACC semifinal as the underdog to Syracuse. It didn’t play like it. The Tar Heels raced out to an 8-0 lead early in the second quarter. Godine posted six goals, putting the lacrosse world on notice in the process, and UNC advanced to the conference tournament finals for the 12th time in 13 years.


Though UNC had my vote for the No. 1 pick in the preseason poll, it’s not exactly surprising that its repeat bid fell short, given the graduations and the immense talent elsewhere in the nation. The Tar Heels clearly have stockpiled blue-chip players, and new faces got experience (which can’t be taught) and shined. The quarterfinal game against Denver was a frustrating one, but all in all, it was a solid year, and one UNC will undoubtedly build on in 2024. Speaking of which, next year will begin the Chloe Humphrey era. The USA Lacrosse National Northeast Girls’ Player of the Year out of Darien, Conn., will don the Carolina Blue as a freshman starting in the fall.