Tar Heels face early season foe in Final Four
The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team (22-1) will travel to the Final Four this weekend in hopes of capturing a national title that has eluded them the last two years.
But before they can worry about the possibility of playing on Sunday, the Tar Heels will first have to face the team that is responsible for the only blemish on their record — Syracuse.
“It’s a completely different team, so there’s no fear in this group,” coach Karen Shelton said. “But they’re not thinking about last year, they’re thinking about Friday and Syracuse.”
Overcoming the No. 5 Orange (19-2) will be no easy task, but the Tar Heels have added a few weapons to their arsenal since their 1-0 overtime loss in the third game of the season.
After sitting out for the first six games to resolve NCAA eligibility issues, sophomore forward Charlotte Craddock took to the field and has been instrumental in UNC’s dynamic offense.
“It helps getting a girl like (Craddock) because she can just take it herself sometimes and end the game right there,” senior midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick said.
Craddock leads the team in goals with 22 and has transformed the traditionally defensively strong team into a dangerous offensive threat.
The Tar Heels have scored 106 goals this season, eclipsing the record set by the 2007 national championship team.
“The last couple of years, we’ve been a much stronger defensive team and this year, we’re a much stronger offensive team,” Shelton said.
In addition to Craddock’s contributions, UNC’s freshmen have also matured at an exponential rate throughout the season.
Though quiet in the first half of the season, freshman Emily Wold has made a name for herself as ACC Freshman of the Year.
“Emily Wold, she didn’t play particularly well in that first Syracuse game,” Shelton said. “It was her third college game. She’s grown tremendously in the course of the season.”
With all of these pieces in place, the stage is set for North Carolina to embark on its quest to recapture the NCAA title.
But, as is Shelton’s refrain, the next game is always the most important.
Before the Tar Heels can start to dream about another run at a title game, they will have to take care of a Syracuse team that has obviously given them trouble in the past.
“It just seals the deal — this is all you train for,” Kolojejchick said.
“When you’re this close, that’s all you can do. I don’t want to fall short again, so this is all or nothing for me.”
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