Jenny Levy: Hoeg-Ortega a 'Tandem That Will Go Down in Lacrosse History'


North Carolina has already had a number of highlight-reel goals this season, but the whizzing Katie Hoeg pass that resulted in a jumping score from Jamie Ortega before halftime of last weekend’s game against Syracuse was arguably one of its best so far.

Hoeg, the team’s fifth-year attacker and all-time points leader, caught a pass on the top left of the arc, took a few steps and spotted Ortega, the Tar Heels’ leading scorer, wide open in space on just right of the crease. Ortega caught the feed in the air, and before her feet even touched the ground, the ball was in the back of the net, stretching the No. 1 Tar Heels’ lead over the nation’s No. 2 team to six goals before the break.

“On that play, I just remember someone was cutting through, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m wide open down low. I hope Katie will find me,’” Ortega said. “And I mean, she always finds me.”

It was just another day at the office for the duo that’s helped North Carolina to an 11-0 start, and after Saturday’s dominant 17-6 win over the Orange, a deserved spot atop the rankings as the country’s best team.

The pair combined for 15 points against Syracuse — five goals and three assists for Ortega, three goals and four assists for Hoeg — tying their season-best point total set last month against James Madison. One of them has now either scored or assisted on 106 of the Tar Heels’ 186 goals this season, leaving opposing defenses in their wake and continuing the path of dominance they’ve paved since Ortega arrived in Hoeg’s sophomore year in 2018.

“The more I play with her, the more I figure out how she plays, the more she figures out how I play, and the closer we get,” Ortega said. “I’m so grateful to be able to have another year with her.”

They spent both the summer and winter breaks training together three times a week on Long Island — alongside USC transfer and new addition Kerrigan Miller — practicing everything from dodges and low-angle shots to on-the-knee shooting to build their chemistry even deeper for this 2021 season, and so far, the work has paid off.

“Jamie and Katie are just a tandem that will go down in lacrosse history as great,” coach Jenny Levy said. “They can score and feed in so many different ways, it’s not something that is a script for them. They’re reading what defenses are giving them, and when you play against that defensively, it’s very difficult to defend.

While Hoeg and Ortega sit atop the team’s points column, it’s arguably the depth of players around them that has made this Tar Heels group such a formidable opponent through this season’s first 11 games.

Attacker Scottie Rose Growney scored four times against the Orange, adding to her season total of 31. Midfielder Ally Mastroianni added two goals of her own and won seven of North Carolina’s 12 draw controls.

Taylor Moreno was a force in goal yet again, bouncing back from the Orange’s quick 4-1 start to finish the game with 11 saves and improve her nation-leading save percentage to .619.

“Even though we had a lot of our team returning from last year, we had some newcomers and just tried to get everybody in a place that they know how they can be great,” Levy said. “That’s just taken some time this season, and I like where we are.”

With only four regular-season games on the slate, this team is showing no signs of slowing down or lowering its standards — “on every possession we have,” Ortega said, “we should be scoring a goal.”

The Tar Heels have only started a season 11-0 once before in program history. In that 2014 campaign, North Carolina came flying out of the gate but then dropped three late regular-season games and bowed out of both the ACC and the NCAA tournament early.

As they did six years ago, the Tar Heels know they have a target on their backs now, and that every team they face — next up is No. 4 Notre Dame on Saturday — wants to come in and take them down. They’re accepting that challenge.

“We know that everyone’s going to want to beat us, everyone wants to play their best game against us, so you go in with the mindset that it doesn’t matter who you’re playing,” Ortega said. “You have to know that you have to play a really good game in order to win.”

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