By Wayne Witkowski
When the dogpile started after the University of North Carolina women’s lacrosse team won the NCAA Division I championship May 29 at Talen Energy Stadium in Philadelphia over the University of Maryland, 15-7 — the same team it lost to, 9-8, in last year’s final — junior defender Alex Moore of Millstone was near the bottom of the pile over goalkeeper Megan Ward.
“I was on top of the goalie, Megan, because I was the one nearest to her and I got crushed. The next minute, everyone was belly-flopping [on top] everywhere,” Moore said. “This [championship] was very well-deserved. It was well-fought. We beat a great opponent and played our best and never let up.”
North Carolina took a 6-1 lead at the start before Maryland rallied back, setting the scene for a 5-0 burst in the second half that spotted the Tar Heels a comfortable 12-6 lead.
It was the crowning glory of the team’s finest season at 20-2, capped by a win over the No. 1-seeded Terrapins (22-1). Ending the season with 17 consecutive victories, it was only the second national title for North Carolina — the other coming in 2013 when the third-seeded Tar Heels beat second-seeded Northwestern University and top-seeded Maryland. North Carolina also went unbeaten through the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) this spring, beating Syracuse University in overtime for the conference tournament championship.
“If you ask anyone, this was their best day, the best week of our lives,” Moore said of the championship. “We’re best friends and we did this with a team that loves each other, that’s very close.”
It was an unprecedented Memorial Day weekend in Philadelphia because the next day, the North Carolina men’s team also beat Maryland, 14-13, in overtime, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia for its first national title since 1991.
“People were stopping me and other players on the [women’s] team who went to the men’s game for autographs and to talk to me and the other players. It was crazy,” she said.
Moore’s statistical highlight is 11 ground balls on the season, but she brought a tenacity to the lineup in the 15 games she played, which she felt was a key to the entire team’s success.
“We had some gritty wins, hard work,” Moore said. “It was not a perfect season, but we capitalized and grew and never stopped believing in each other. It was an outstanding season. We had each other’s back and played such amazing lacrosse. It was so much fun.”
And Moore did her part, including in the championship game.
“I had interceptions, a couple of ground balls, but I was playing so well — we all were, a full unit for the entire team with clears, defense, the play of our goalie and our attackers,” Moore said.
Moore, a nursing major working the days in a summer credit program at CentraState Health Care System in Freehold, started her college career at the University of Southern California (USC) but transferred for her sophomore year to North Carolina. Last season, Moore was an attacker and played in 15 games, starting the first nine, and finished with 13 goals and four assists.
Coach Jenny Levy decided to bring Moore in off the bench in the second half of the season. Moore scored a season-high four goals in her debut against James Madison University and four goals in the next game — a victory over No. 3-seed University of Florida. She earned ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors early in the season.
Things changed for Moore for this season when she was moved from attack, where she set Allentown High School scoring records, to playing on defense for the Tar Heels. She also was on defense as a freshman at USC.
“My coach said she wanted me as a defender and she liked my instincts,” Moore said. “She asked me, ‘Are you up for it?’ I didn’t think twice about it. I went ahead and did it. The transition could not be better. It was not a scary process. I actually like playing [defense] now.”
Moore said the defenders all room together in the campus dormitories.
“I’m confident in my defense. I believe our defense is actually the best in the nation,” she said. “We’re all best friends.
“The coach said ground balls I make are game-changing, and she said we will win if we do the little things on the field as a team — ground balls, draw controls, [winning] 50/50s, saves from low-angle shots. If you do the 1 percent, the little things, no team is able to beat you as long as you stay gritty and hard working.”
It is an ethic that Moore learned at Allentown under Hall of Fame coach Mary Ellen McCarthy in conference and state sectional championship seasons there.
“Coach McCarthy texted me before and after my [college] games. She said, ‘Play like a champion,’ ” Moore said. “She’d say that in her office. It was all over her door. She said to definitely use athleticism and what it takes to be a great teammate. She was a great influence on me in and outside of lacrosse. She told me to respect my opponents and be confident, be smart.
“She cared immensely about her teams. She’s amazingly smart and developed a culture in playing the game, playing for your teammates. It was very special to be a part of that.”
And now Moore has a special experience for this spring that she also will always remember.