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UNC's Caitlyn Wurzburger.

Don't Sleep on North Carolina, Caitlyn Wurzburger in ACC Tournament

April 24, 2024
Justin Feil
Peyton Williams

Caitlyn Wurzburger heads into her final postseason with the chance to add to her much anticipated and somewhat underappreciated career.

The senior co-captain just quietly passed Marie McCool, a two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist, for fifth all-time in North Carolina scoring with her 247th point in the team’s regular-season finale against Duke.

“It’s crazy over the four-year period how quickly it’s gone,” Wurzburger said. “It reminds me starting from freshman year how far we’ve come.”

Wurzburger, the Tar Heels’ second-leading scorer this spring, can move further up the program ladder as she tries to help fourth-seeded UNC advance against fifth-seeded Virginia in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament Wednesday at American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte.

UNC is 10-5 overall, 6-3 in the ACC and looking to make a run that could avenge some of its regular-season losses that occurred while the Tar Heels sorted out roles after tough injuries.

“I wouldn’t sleep on us,” UNC coach Jenny Levy said. “We’re certainly a team that knows how to win and believes in ourselves and our training processes and our player development. And so, we’re certainly not quitting on ourselves. If we’re not quitting on ourselves, nobody else should for sure.”

Louisville-Syracuse draws at 11 a.m., followed by Carolina-Virginia at 2 p.m., then it’s Clemson-Notre Dame at 5 p.m. and Duke-Boston College at 8 p.m. North Carolina beat Virginia 10-9 in overtime on Feb. 23.

The Tar Heels haven’t lost to Virginia since May 17, 2014. Quarterfinal winners move on to Friday’s semifinals, and the championship is set for noon Sunday. North Carolina had won six straight ACC tournament titles until Boston College won last year and will be playing with a chip on its shoulder.

“I don’t think we have as many of those big names and All-Americans maybe as other teams do,” Wurzburger said. “But I think if you are around this team, you see how special they are and they genuinely enjoy each other’s company and being around each other. So, I think that’s going to resonate on the field the next couple of weeks.”

Wurzburger was a huge name even before her freshman year in Chapel Hill. She committed to Syracuse as a 14-year-old, the youngest-ever Division I commit. She de-committed two years later and switched to North Carolina as a junior at American Heritage-Delray (Fla.), where she set a national record with 1,027 career points on 503 goals and 524 assists in six varsity seasons. She was still in high school when she led the U.S. U19 national team to the 2019 World Cup gold with 40 points on 21 goals and a U19 tournament-record 19 assists.

“She maximized her opportunities in high school,” Levy said. “But coming in, like every player, there’s an adjustment time to learning the college game and the physicality, the speed of play and the tactical IQ that you need to be great.”

Wurzburger has shared her experience of handling the pressures of being a major recruit with Chloe Humphrey, this year’s top-ranked freshman. Humphrey is one of four North Carolina players lost to season-ending injuries even before the year began.

“I think pressure is a privilege that we’re able to have here at Carolina,” Wurzburger said. “I think just take it with a grain of salt. I mean I think when you step on the field, you’re just playing lacrosse. It’s nothing more than that. So, I think it’s just taking every day as it is and just enjoying the moment with your friends out there.”

Some thought Wurzburger could duplicate her absurd scholastic totals in college. She has been a picture of balance throughout her 78-game career with 36, 34 and 37 goals, and 17, 42 and 35 assists through her first three seasons. With 46 points this year on 26 goals and 20 assists, Wurzburger has kept up her steady production thanks to her pinpoint .828 career shot on goal percentage and vision.

“We appreciate her, and we’ll miss her next year,” Levy said. “I think the players coming through our program have an opportunity to compete for ACC and national championships, and while she was here, she was part of two ACC championship teams. She’s been to the final four twice and won a national championship. She’s been a pretty dominant point-getter in our program. I think that’s really successful. I don’t know how other people wanted to define success. When Caitlyn graduates, she can hang up her cleats at Carolina and think she had a great career and she really contributed to the overall success of our program.”

Wurzburger is only three points away from tying Abbey Friend for fourth on the program’s all-time points list. She is nine points away from No. 3 Corey Donohoe. She could end up trailing only Jamie Ortega (466 points) and Katie Hoeg (370) in program history.

“It’s a big honor,” Wurzburger said. “I know the names up there. They’ve had great careers here at Carolina, so it’s just like a big honor to be part of them. Honestly, I don’t know where I am until they start posting with our social media.”

Winning and extending the Tar Heels’ season could help her add to the total. She has a 42-game point streak on the line, and her experience should be a plus for a Carolina offense that will have to balance being patient and aggressive against Virginia’s zone defense. Succeeding in her role — just like she’s so often done — could help North Carolina start a familiar title run out of an unfamiliar underdog role.

“We take it with grace, and it’s motivation,” Wurzburger said.