CHAPEL HILL — The Elon University women’s lacrosse team dug a hole that proved too deep to climb out of Friday afternoon; falling to the University of Virginia 11-9 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Chapel Hill.
In the fourth-year program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, Elon saw the Cavaliers burst out of the gates at the beginning, scoring the first four goals of the match, including two on counterattacks. Head coach Josh Hexter felt that the offense’s 14-minute scoreless drought to open the game hurt the Phoenix on the defensive end.
“I was surprised that it was 4-0, especially because I think our defense was really good,” Hexter said. “They got a couple easy ones on us. Had we been taking care of business on the offensive side, it would be a totally different game, but we didn’t do that in the first half. We were too jammed up and in each other’s way.”
Elon senior goalie Rachel Ramirez, who saved seven shots, added, “They were quick getting down, and we needed to adjust. We did a pretty good job at adjusting after that 4-0 lapse. I think we played great defense, we just gave them more opportunities than we would have liked.”
Junior attacker Nicole Sinacori put Elon on the board with 15:44 left in the first half, finding space in front to beat Virginia junior goalkeeper Rachel Vander Kolk. The teams then proceeded to go another 11 minutes scoreless until they traded goals before the half, with sophomore midfielder Jacie Cooper finding the back of the net for Elon.
Virginia started the half well again by scoring three goals in seven minutes to build the lead as high as six goals. Two of the goals came off of yellow cards, including one that Hexter felt should have been called the other way.
“At the end of the first half, [Godfrey] got shoved to the ground, but there was no call,” Hexter said. “And then she ends up with a yellow. That turn of events right there — we have to come out a man down and they scored — kind of started a ripple effect, and they got three easy ones really fast. That no-call was a turning point, for sure.”
Down 8-2, Hexter said Elon felt its offense was “too clogged up” in the first half, but was proud of the team’s adjustment at halftime.
“In the second half, we went with a bit of a different game plan that we haven’t run all year,” Hexter said. “For them to come out and adjust and play like that was really fantastic. I was really proud of them for being able to morph into a new offense and have the courage to keep battling the way they did. It was great.”
But Elon cut the lead back down to three with two goals from Cooper, completing her first career hat trick, and two goals from junior midfielder Shelby Scanlin, making the game 9-6 with 9:12 left.
Elon gained possession back after Scanlin’s second goal, but Virginia scored on the counterattack again to stop the Phoenix’s run. The Cavaliers added their 11th goal with 6:44 left with its fourth free position goal in six tries.
Elon kept fighting, scoring the final three goals of the match, but couldn’t complete the comeback. Cooper was still proud of the team’s attempt.
“I would say that the early deficit wasn’t really what we wanted, but I felt it shows a lot of character to fight back and get it within two in the end,” Cooper said. “We just waited a little too long.”
The loss ends the best season in the Phoenix’s short history, finishing with a 13-7 record and three wins over ranked opponents. It also marks the end of the careers of Elon’s inaugural class of four-year seniors like Ramirez, who has played all but 71 minutes in net in the history of the program.
“Coming in here as a freshman, with no program and building it up was great,” Ramirez said. “Josh put all his faith in me and believed I could do it. It’s been a great time. It’s been a great ride, and I couldn’t be happier with where I left this program. I left my legacy and gave it all I could, so I’m happy.”
Even though Elon “didn’t get the result we wanted today, Hexter couldn’t help but express his pride in his senior class after the conclusion of their final game.
“It’s a lot. It’s a lot because you feel for them,” Hexter said. “There was no trying to pitch anything to them — they wanted that challenge. We had kids who were excited to climb that mountain, and they just kept climbing more mountains every day. And here we are."
“But these seniors, my goodness. You can’t put the emotion into words of how proud we are of them, how thankful we are for them, and how Elon University is thankful to them for coming here and building us into what we are.”