Reworded: WRAL sports anchor Brian Murphy reported this information.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
North Carolina has returned to the NCAA field hockey championship game.
However, the Tar Heels, who are currently ranked at the top, and their first-year coach Erin Matson, are not content.
“We’re not done yet,” defender Romea Riccardo said after UNC’s 2-0 victory against ACC rival Virginia on Friday afternoon. “We celebrated for five minutes and then we go back to seeing who we play and we look for the next one.”
The Tar Heels are aiming for their second back-to-back victory, fifth in the past six seasons, and 11th overall title. They will face off against No. 2 Northwestern on Sunday for the championship game, after defeating No. 3 Duke 2-1 in Friday’s semifinal match. The championship game is set to begin at 1:30 p.m.
Last season, UNC defeated Northwestern in the final game. However, this year, Northwestern claimed the 2021 title, which was the only one that Matson did not win during her impressive five-year career as a player.
Matson, who is 23 years old and has been named national player of the year three times, transitioned from being a player on the field to a coach on the bench when Shelton, the program’s esteemed coach, retired. In her inaugural season, she became the youngest coach in the NCAA and led the Tar Heels to their seventh consecutive ACC title. This also marks their 22nd appearance in the NCAA title game since 1987.
Matson stated that there are still tasks that need to be addressed and reminded everyone of the high standards that the company holds itself to. He emphasized that these standards are well-known throughout the country and the company will not settle for anything less.
The Tar Heels effectively stopped Virginia’s offense on Friday, only allowing five penalty corners and six shots from the Cavaliers.
On Friday, UNC’s Ryleigh Heck scored the first goal of the game in the first quarter by making a transition down the left side. This marked Heck’s 13th goal of the season.
Heck, a sophomore from New Jersey and the team’s second-leading scorer, explained, “The play began with our defense and then transitioned into an offensive attack. It was a collective effort and I was fortunate enough to score the goal.”
In the second period, Seitske Bruning scored a goal for the Tar Heels by deflecting a shot into the cage from a direct shot on a penalty corner, making the score 2-0.
The Tar Heels now have the opportunity to continue their streak of impressive achievements. In 2022, 2020, 2019, and 2018, North Carolina emerged as the national champions, with Matson leading the team. In the previous year’s championship match, Matson scored the decisive goal.
The Tar Heels have achieved 10 NCAA-record national titles from 1989 to 2009. They have also come in second place 11 times, with the most recent being in 2016.
“It’s incredible to have been a member of such a dedicated team that has a strong desire to improve,” Matson stated. “I am thrilled with their performance on Friday and confident that we will continue that momentum into Sunday.”
Duke vs. Northwestern
Duke was striving to win their first ever field hockey national championship. Although they were the runners-up in 2013, 2005, 2004, and 2003, they were unable to secure the title. The Blue Devils ended their season with a record of 18-5 and also qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019.
Northwestern was the first team to score, but Duke tied the game in the third period with a great redirect by Hannah Miller.
According to Northwestern coach Tracey Fuchs, Hannah Miller’s goal was of exceptional quality and her tip was stunning. Fuchs acknowledged that there was nothing her team could have done to stop it, praising Miller as a fantastic player.
However, Northwestern’s relentless offense created numerous chances for the Wildcats, who recorded a total of 20 shots with nine on target. Additionally, they earned 10 penalty corners. On the other hand, Duke only managed four shots, two of which were on goal, and one penalty corner.
However, it was a goal during a transition that put Northwestern in the lead. Olivia Bent-Cole managed to evade multiple defenders in the midfield and then passed to Regan Cornelius, who scored.
Cornelius stated that she provided him with an excellent pass. He was aware that all he needed to do was a basic stop push, which they frequently practice.
The Wildcats hold a record of 21 wins and 1 loss, with a current winning streak of 21 games. They are the top-ranked team in terms of scoring margin and save percentage. They are now preparing to face the team that prevented them from achieving consecutive titles. In the previous year, UNC defeated them 2-1 in the final match.
According to Duke coach Pam Bustin, the upcoming match will showcase distinct styles. Bustin’s team was defeated twice by both finalists this season. She believes that both teams excel in counterattacking, so the key to victory will be possession of the ball and taking advantage of opportunities to counterattack.
I believe that set pieces are significant. If Northwestern is able to earn as many corner kicks as they did on Friday, I think they will be in a favorable position.
This marks Northwestern’s third consecutive appearance in the NCAA championship game, having won in 2021 and lost to UNC in the final in 2022.
Alia Marshall of Northwestern stated that she is not fixating on the events of last year. However, it has served as a driving force for her to return. She has no doubts about it.