DURHAM – It’s an odd sight to behold.
With Duke logos and signage plastered everywhere around Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium in Durham, the seventh-ranked North Carolina field hockey team takes the field for its first home game of the season, a matchup against No. 10 Boston College. In the stands, there’s the UNC band and fans clad in Carolina blue supporting the Tar Heels.
In a year of change for head coach Karen Shelton’s players, this is “home” for them.
Or at least as close to home as they can get.
After the demolition of Henry Stadium, the Tar Heels are sharing a home field in 2017 with their biggest rival, the Duke Blue Devils. In 2018, UNC will begin play at a new stadium, which will be located on the current site of Ehringhaus Field.
In the meantime, Shelton is thankful the team that wears a darker shade of blue is lending a helping hand.
“The people at Duke have been amazing,” she said. “For all of us Tar Heels, I don’t know if it’s hard to say that, but we’re grateful.”
The circumstances are obviously less than ideal. The Tar Heels said goodbye to Henry Stadium, a place that was good to them over the years. From 1999 to 2016, UNC went 147-26 at home.
Like most games in its former home stadium, the Tar Heels’ start in its temporary home ended with a win, a thrilling 2-1 decision against the Eagles on Saturday that wasn’t settled until junior Ashley Hoffman scored the game-winning goal in overtime.
Even though this year of change is the only normal first-year Eva Smolenaars has known as a Tar Heel, she realizes this is a situation she and her teammates just have to make the best of. She’s also thankful for the support the team has received from its fans.
“Without them, it would be a lot harder,” she said. “I feel like they help us a lot.”
A day after the win over Boston College, UNC picked up another home victory, this one a 3-0 win against James Madison.
Overall, Shelton said her players have been able to “go with the flow," and handle whatever difficulties are presented this year.
“When it comes down to it, a pitch is a pitch, and the kids play,” she said. “They throw the ball out and both go at it.”
If anything, game day is the easiest part of process.
The inconveniences of being uprooted from its former home base are felt on a day-to-day basis. The team is currently operating out of the Loudermilk Center for Excellence, and utilizes the men’s lacrosse team’s video theater for film review.
The biggest hurdle has been having to bus over to Duke to practice during the week, which makes the players’ days that much longer.
“That’s the real bad part about all this,” Shelton said. “They’re crunched for time as it is, and now we’ve just added bus time.”
Of course, it could be much worse. Shelton mentioned how the California field hockey program had to make a 90-plus minute commute to rival Stanford when its home field was being replaced.
So UNC is focusing on what it actually has control over.
“Our team is really trying to control the controllables,” Hoffman said. “And everything else is just put to the side.”
Two home games in, they’ve done just that.
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