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The Daily Tar Heel

Tough ACC schedule helps UNC field hockey

Win, or go home.

After clinching its 19th ACC Tournament title with a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over Syracuse on Sunday, the Tar Heels earned the No. 2 seed and home field advantage for the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which begins Saturday with an 11:30 a.m. tilt between UNC and Boston University at Francis E. Henry Stadium.

This marks the Tar Heels’ 13th straight NCAA Tournament berth and the 32nd in Coach Karen Shelton’s 35 years at the helm of the program.

Of the top four seeds in the tournament, three are ACC schools — UNC, Syracuse at No. 1 and Virginia at No. 3 — showing just how tough the conference is.

“We benefit by playing in the ACC,” Shelton said. “The (ACC) Tournament last weekend was as much of a final four weekend as you can try and simulate.”

Shelton acknowledged the effort it takes to compete in the conference and gave the team two days off to recover from Sunday’s match.

“Three games in four days was physically a demanding task and mentally a demanding task, so we just needed a little break going into postseason,” she said.

Now preparation for this weekend is in full force.

The Tar Heels’ training begins with watching film on upcoming opponents, which leads to practices that are detailed for the next game.

“We prepare specifically for each opponent each and every game,” Shelton said.

That preparation might come easy for the Tar Heels, as they have a possibility of seeing one of nine teams they have already faced this season. But Shelton is stressing to the team that nothing is guaranteed.

“None of us are looking ahead,” she said. “It is one game at a time.”

Saturday’s game is a reunion of sorts for UNC midfielder Kristy Bernatchez, as she will play her sister, Terriers back Katie Bernatchez, for the first time in college.

The Bernatchez sisters played together all throughout high school, but with Katie now a senior, this could be the last game the two will ever play against each other.

“(We played on the) same club team, and my mom coached us, so we’ve always been together,” Kristy said.

In addition to that first, Saturday will also mark the opening tournament experience for an impactful cast of Tar Heel first-year players.

While the team will strive to win a national title in the coming weeks, North Carolina knows nothing will come easy.

Even those inexperienced to NCAA Tournament play express that the most important ingredient to success is being prepared and confident leading into a game.

“Being confident is in our training, and we truly have been training so hard, so I guess just like going into the tournament, just keeping that confidence in our preparation,” said first-year midfielder Ashley Hoffman.

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Now North Carolina will look to put aside the achievements they have earned so far in the 2015 season and vie for the program’s first national title since 2009 — one game at a time.