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May 9, 2014

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North Carolina, James Madison Reach WCLA D-II Final

Player-coach Mary Morgan Bitler and the Tar Heels will face No. 2 seed James Madison in Saturday's showdown between the last two WCLA Division II champions. (Cecil Copeland)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (March 9, 2014) – No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 2 seed James Madison both secured convincing semifinal wins Friday afternoon to advance to the US Lacrosse Women's Collegiate Lacrosse Associates (WCLA) Division II National Championship Game.

North Carolina jumped to an early 5-0 lead and never trailed in defeating No. 4 seed Loyola Maryland, 17-8. James Madison was equally impressive, building a 10-3 halftime lead en route to a 20-4 victory over No. 6 seed Duke.

Saturday's championship game, slated for 12-noon, will feature a showdown of the past two WCLA D-II champions. UNC won the 2012 crown while JMU claimed last year's title. Saturday's meeting will also be the second of the year for the two Mid Atlantic Women's Lacrosse League rivals, who met on April 13 in the MAWLL final. UNC won that contest 15-14 in overtime.

"After we played them in the regionals, we thought that we might see them again," said UNC's player-coach Mary Morgan Bitler. "Winning that one was nice, but obviously, this will be the one that really counts."

Facing another MAWLL opponent will be nothing new for the Tar Heels, who played Loyola for the third time this season. While both earlier meetings were much closer, decided by just two goals, Friday's match-up was controlled mostly by North Carolina. Bitler scored twice in the first half and Sarah Kennedy tallied two of her three markers during the first 16 minutes as UNC jumped ahead early. The Tar Heels led 8-2 at halftime and Bitler gave most of the credit to the defense.

"Our defense limited their shot opportunities and also created a lot of our offense today," she said.

Goalie Madeleine Loeb finished with eight saves for the Heels, who will carry a perfect 14-0 record into Saturday's championship game.

Sophomore Claire Scott finished with a team-high four goals, while Kennedy and freshman Ali Valinski each finished with three goals.

Loyola, which was looking to return to the final for the first time since finishing as national runner-up in 2010, was led by Gabrielle Costabile, who netted four goals. The Hounds finished with a 12-4 record, with three of the losses coming against North Carolina, and the other against James Madison.

JMU never gave Duke a chance in the other semifinal. Three goals by Brie Hayden and two by Catherine Flood, who finished with a team-high four goals, helped the Dukes build a 7-1 lead through the first 20 minutes. Leading by seven at halftime, James Madison erased any hopes of a Blue Devil comeback by scoring the first six goals of the second half to increase its lead to 16-3.

"This was our third game of the season against Duke and we know how they like to play," said JMU's player-coach Ellen Keel. "Having beaten them twice earlier, we didn't want to come into the game being overconfident, so we talked about that before the game."

Due to the round-robin format of the D-II tournament, Duke was playing its second game of the day. The Blue Devils secured their semifinal berth earlier Friday morning with a 16-14 victory over UC San Diego.

James Madison, 14-2 overall, now has a chance to avenge one of its two losses of the year while also claiming a second straight national championship.

"We're real excited to get a re-match with North Carolina," Keel said.

Friday's Game Scores – Pool Play

Duke 16, UC San Diego 14
Oakland 11, Cortland 8
St. Benedict's 20, SMU 19
Denver 18, Gonzaga 8

Friday's Consolation Bracket Scores

SMU 21, UC San Diego 19
Utah 17, St. Benedict's 8
Oakland 11, Denver 9
Cortland 12, Gonzaga 11


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