As North Carolina goalie Debbie Castine walked across the Chapel Hill campus to the first spring practice, a man approached her with a question.
"Is that the beginner's stick?" he said, motioning toward the large net of her goalie stick.
Castine could only smile. "People down here don't know a lot about lacrosse," said the sophomore from South Orange, N.J. "A lot of people have heard of it, but not many have seen it."
Women's lacrosse is not yet a tradition at Chapel Hill, but winning is, and the Tar Heels have quickly blended the two.
In only its second season, Carolina has used a strong Baltimore connection to rise to No. 3 in the nation heading into this weekend's inaugural women's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Charlottesville, Va.
Coach Jenny Slingluff, a Roland Park graduate who was the NCAA Attack Player of the Year at Virginia in 1992, has 13 Baltimore-area women on the roster.
In the past two years, she has snared some of the best local talent, including defenders Katie Loovis, who was captain of the U.S. under-19 team at the 1995 World Cup, and Jennie Voishan, also an under-19 player. She also landed attacker Erin McGinnis, who set all of Carolina's single-season scoring records last year.
Slingluff has four other former All-Metro players on the squad -- Ridgely Bennett, Lizzy Bennett, Julie Kickham and Meghann Mohler -- as well as two who transferred in, senior Amy Fine (from Maryland) and junior Lori Pasquantonio (Virginia).
"The Maryland girls, even though they're young, bring a high level of competition," said Slingluff, 27. "Some of the teams they're playing against are filled with seniors. Just because we're young doesn't mean we can't be competitive."
Mount Hebron graduates Fine, Pasquantonio and McGinnis have ranked consistently among the ACC's top scorers, and Castine is rated first in save percentage. The defense is allowing fewer goals (4.48) than any other ACC team.
Last year, the Tar Heels finished 12-4, ranked No. 12 -- a stunning debut by Division I standards.
This year, the Tar Heels (13-1) are gunning for an NCAA tournament berth, and they are well-positioned because eight teams advance. Their only loss was by 10-8 to top-ranked Maryland.
They're looking for a rematch in tomorrow's ACC tournament final (1 p.m.), but first they must get past No. 5 Virginia today at 1 p.m. Maryland plays Duke in the other semifinal at 3 p.m.
The North Carolina varsity team owes its existence to five club players, including current team captain Carla Nappi.
Because there has been a men's varsity lacrosse team at North Carolina since 1964, the women club players thought they deserved the same based on Title IX, which prohibits sex discrimination in federally-funded education programs. They spent a year researching and writing a 200-page report outlining their arguments and submitted it to the university's administrators.
In May 1994, the school announced it was adding the team. The Tar Heels played their first game on March 6, 1996.
Delaware (2-8) at No. 9 Loyola (6-2)
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Curley Field
Skinny: Blue Hens have lost six straight and allowed 41 goals the last two games.
No. 13 Towson State (3-4) at New Hampshire (2-7)
Time: 1 p.m.
Site: Cowell Stadium, Durham, N.H.
Radio: WTMD (89.7 FM)
Skinny: Tigers outshot the Wildcats 67-27 in a 17-5 victory last year.
No. 14 Navy (6-4) at No. 4 Johns Hopkins (6-3)
Time: 2 p.m.
Site: Homewood Field
Radio: WWLG (1360 AM)
Skinny: Blue Jays have won 22 straight over the Midshipmen.
UMBC (7-2) at Stony Brook (8-2)
Time: 2 p.m.
Site: Seawolves Stadium, Stony Brook, N.Y.
Skinny: Seawolves have won three straight, including their last two by a goal.
Pub Date: 4/19/97