UNC faces fast-paced Princeton in national championship
The stage was all but set for a Sunday showdown between two of the most storied programs in NCAA Division I field hockey.
But on Sunday, North Carolina won’t be facing Maryland for the fourth consecutive time in the national championship game.
Instead, they’ll take on a fast-paced Princeton team that pulled ahead of the defending national champions in the semifinals with a penalty stroke in overtime to advance to the title game for the first time since 1998.
“As I told the girls before the game, passion, not pedigree would win this game,” coach Kristin Holmes-Winn said after Princeton’s win.
Now the Tar Heels will have to shift their focus away from the possibility of playing a familiar team. Instead, UNC will have one day to prepare for a Princeton team eerily similar to itself.
The Tar Heels have faced 17 teams this season, but never came up against the Tigers.
“We feel like we don’t know much about Princeton,” coach Karen Shelton said.
Princeton and UNC employ similar offensive strategies. Both teams average about five goals while only allowing one goal per game.
The Tiger have outscored opponents 99-20 for the season while the Tar Heels have outscored theirs 112-26.
The similarities don’t end there. Syracuse is the only team to beat UNC or Princeton this season, though UNC redeemed its record’s lone blemish on Saturday to earn the right to face the Tigers.
The Tar Heel defense will have to focus on Princeton’s Kathleen Sharkey, who is the Tigers’ leading scorer with 37 goals this season.
But Sharkey can’t win the game on her own. The Reinprecht sisters, Katie and Julia, will also be key for Princeton’s offense as the duo lead the team in assists with 18 and 13, respectively.
Freshman Teresa Benvenuti is also an offensive threat. She scored the game-winning goal off the penalty stroke to advance her team to the NCAA final.
Prior to defeating Maryland 3-2 in the semifinals, the Tigers overcame the Terrapins by the same score in the regular season. North Carolina twice prevailed against Maryland this season, once by one goal in overtime and again by a 4-2 margin in the ACC championship game.
After the bracket for this year’s NCAA tournament was announced, the Tar Heels realized they could face the Terrapins in the national championship game for the fourth year in a row. But after Princeton’s win last night, the team will have to change gears and focus on the Tigers.
“We were never going to face Princeton unless we faced them in the national championship,” Shelton said.
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