Tar Heels take top spot despite loss

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Under normal circumstances, the No. 1 spot in the polls is earned by the team with the best performance from the past week.

But last week in NCAA Division I field hockey, the top three teams suffered losses, prompting a shake up in the rankings that left North Carolina in the top spot despite a weekend overtime loss.

“There’s not a great explanation for it other than there’s a lot of parity in Division I field hockey this year,” coach Karen Shelton said. “And if you’ve followed the other top teams and their records, they’ve all suffered a loss early.”

Previous No. 1 and ACC foe Maryland lost its Friday match against then-No. 3 Old Dominion, creating an opportunity for a new team to take the reigns in the polls. ODU then lost to previous No. 8 Virginia on Sunday.

The Tar Heels split their weekend games in New York, losing 1-0 to last week’s No.7 Syracuse on Saturday but beating Cornell 6-1 on Sunday.

The upsets left the top teams unsure of their rankings going into the next week. And when the polls were released, UNC only received 697 points and eight first place votes, more than 100 points less than the total that landed UNC second place in the preseason poll.

But the significantly lower point total was good enough to dethrone the Terrapins and earn the No. 1 spot.

“It was a huge surprise,” junior forward Rachel Magerman said. “After we lost, we were kind of saying that this is motivation for us to work harder because we won’t be ranked No. 1, so we’ll be kind of an underdog when we’re ranked two or three.

“Then when the rankings came out and we were No. 1, we were all really shocked.”

Maryland dropped two spots to No. 3, coming in right below Syracuse.

“We always have a rivalry with (Maryland), so it’s nice when we’re ranked over them,” Magerman said. “But it doesn’t really mean anything because when we play them it’s a dogfight.”

Though the Tar Heels weren’t expecting to be the top team, they must now embrace the position and prove the selection wasn’t a fluke.

“I think this weekend we need to come out and make a statement,” senior back Caitlin Van Sickle said. “Not so much about being No. 1, but about ourselves and wanting to play better and playing Carolina field hockey.”

Van Sickle acknowledged that UNC is still a top team despite the loss, but the team isn’t playing at the level of a No. 1 team.

“I definitely think that we’re one of the top teams in the country,” Van Sickle said. “But after losing to Syracuse, I don’t think we’re quite there yet, but we have to potential to be.”

The Tar Heels may have snuck past other top teams to the top of the polls in this round, but the rankings won’t matter until later in the season.

“I don’t think we (deserve the No. 1 ranking) — I don’t think any of us do,” Magerman said. “We still need to work harder. When it counts to be No. 1 is in the postseason.”

Contact the desk editor at sports@dailytarheel.com.

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