Johnson came into this weekend having played less than 500 minutes, but her mental focus throughout the season prepared her for big moments.
“Throughout the season, I worked on staying mentally in it, practicing hard,” she said. “So I could be ready when I was called on.”
Shelton told Johnson days before the tournament she would be in goal in place of Alex Halpin — the transfer sophomore who had played nearly twice as many minutes as Johnson in net.
“When it’s even, we like to go with experience,” Shelton said.
With Johnson in the cage, the Tar Heels were able to stymie two solid opponents, providing five saves throughout the weekend. Hoffman said Johnson’s ability to communicate was important for the team’s success.
“She is very vocal back there,” Hoffman said. “She talks to us, helps us know where to be on defense.”
Hoffman — while only a sophomore — has a great deal of familiarity with Johnson in the cage. She enrolled in January 2015 in order to practice with the team a semester early.
“That extra semester helped me build chemistry and gave me basically two-and-a-half years with the team as a sophomore,” Hoffman said. “I got to learn from Emily Wold, and feel comfortable out there.”
Playing an aggressive midfield style in which she plays both offense and defense, Hoffman thrived. After coming into the weekend with six goals this season, the sophomore left with nine — including a pivotal early goal on Sunday.
“Her first goal so early in the game gave us a spike of energy,” Johnson said. “It really helps us moving forward in the game.”
Hoffman echoed the sentiment, saying how vital it was to be the first team on the board.
“As soon as we got that goal, we banded together,” she said. “It sets the tone for the game.”
The Tar Heels scored first in both games this weekend, and the early goals figure to be a critical part of their offense as they head to the Final Four in Norfolk, Virginia, next weekend.
But the key for UNC will be defense. Shelton attributed a great deal of success this weekend to the Tar Heels’ defensive unit.
“We had a really good weekend,” she said. “And I hope we keep peaking at the right time.”
With a week to prepare and Connecticut (22-1, 7-0 AAC) awaiting at 2 p.m. on Friday, the Tar Heels know experience and preparation will continue to be crucial to their success.
“We try to stick to our game plan, think about nothing other than the game ahead of us and play the game the Carolina way,” Hoffman said.