Current Date: Wed, 12 Mar 2014 10:30:22 -0400
North Carolina’s field hockey team is used to dominating the ball, and Sunday’s aggressive offensive performance against Virginia Commonwealth was no exception.
UNC outshot the Rams 29-2, but the first of VCU’s pair of shots was all it took to show the Tar Heels that pure volume of possession wouldn’t be enough.
It wasn’t until the 21st minute that the Rams took a shot. UNC had already taken 11, but the prodigious play of goalkeeper Megan Botteri — who finished with 16 saves — had denied the Tar Heels a goal until that point.
On a fast break, VCU managed to penetrate the Tar Heel circle and was awarded a penalty corner. The Rams’ Kelsey Scherrer slotted the ball into the back of the UNC cage with VCU’s first shot of the game. For just the third time all season, UNC failed to score first.
From that point on, the Tar Heels knew they had to refine their aggression.
“We kind of had a little chip on our shoulder,” said Kelsey Kolojejchick, who scored a hat trick for UNC. “We don’t like to get scored on first. It was a lot harder than we thought it would be, I guess. They did a really good job. With a goalkeeper like that, you have to try to push the ball around her, instead of going right at her.”
Though UNC entered the second half up 2-1, the Tar Heels knew they had left plenty of opportunities on the table. UNC had taken 18 shots in the first half and earned 8 penalty corners — a direct result of the team’s relentless assault on the VCU circle.
And while the defensive-minded Rams seemed capable of handling UNC’s straight-ahead style of attack at first, they weren’t able to absorb its more efficient second-half efforts.
“Our offense was excellent from backfield up through the frontfield,” junior forward Sinead Loughran said. “We got many circle penetrations, and we got a lot of shots off.”
Coach Karen Shelton said that she instructed her team to begin the second half in an aggressive attacking formation — this time, one that involved flankers on both sides of the goal to give UNC a better chance of getting around Botteri.
“We were actually only going to do it for the first five minutes,” she said. “But it was working so well we stuck with it. We call it ‘rocket,’ and it worked well.”
VCU preferred to sit back and take advantage of UNC’s mistakes on the counterattack when they could, which meant that the Tar Heel back line had little to do.
Though in Saturday’s game Wake Forest was able to penetrate UNC’s half of the field, Shelton said that her team won’t be able to rely on aggression alone as the season progresses.
“We don’t get pressured a lot,” she said. “We have to simulate it in practice, but we know as we go into our tougher final stretch of the season, we’re going to be pressured more.”
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