The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team completed its second straight shutout against a ranked opponent on Friday afternoon. The Tar Heel went into Bedford Field to defeat No. 8 Princeton, 2-0, in a tense, competitive game.
UNC (2-1) captured the lead from the get-go as first-year forward Meredith Sholder rifled one past the goalie just four minutes into the contest.
“It was a big-time shot early in the game that really gave our team a huge lift,” head coach Karen Shelton said.
Princeton (0-1) could have faltered to the pressure of an early 1-0 deficit. However, the Tigers maintained their composure and never surrendered.
The first half was a highly defensive matchup from both sides. Besides the opening score from the Tar Heels, each team made it nearly impossible for the other to establish any rhythm on offense. Both sides struggled with getting into the shooting circle with full possession of the ball, as swarms of defenders would frequently stop any offensive attack within its tracks.
For the majority of the second half, the pacing was more of the same until a foul was called with around 13 minutes left to play that rewarded Princeton with an opportunity to tie the game. Despite this favorable penalty stroke for Ryan McCarthy, redshirt first-year goalkeeper Amanda Hendry arguably made the play-of-the-game by providing a timely save that kept UNC in the lead.
“It was huge,” Shelton said. “They had been putting some pressure on us, so it was a huge momentum shift.”
Five minutes shortly after Hendry’s clutch moment, the offense took advantage as a redirected shot concluded with Gab Major converting the game-winning goal, securing the victory for the Tar Heels.
Who stood out?
Sholder, who had her first career start for the Tar Heels this afternoon, firmly left her imprint on this one.
Her presence was felt from the very beginning with her opening goal, smashing the ball from the top left-hand side of the shooting circle. During the critical moments at the end of the game, Sholder helped close out the win with her assist to Major in the final minutes. Shelton has high hopes for the 2016 National High School Player of the Year winner.
“We think that she’s only going to get better as she gets used to the speed and the level of competition in Division I,” Shelton said. “She seems to be getting more comfortable, and I think she has the potential to really be an explosive forward for us.”
Why does it matter?
After opening the season with three straight ranked opponents, this young but talented team has showcased tremendous potential. Shelton believes that playing this tough strength of schedule will ultimately help her team improve in the long haul.
“When you play this tough schedule, it exposes weaknesses and areas that need work, so we try to play the strongest schedule that we can get,” Shelton said. “There are a lot of positives, and I believe we are going to get better.”
Where do they play next?
The Tar Heels have a short turnaround as they head quickly to Philadelphia to play another Ivy League opponent in the Pennsylvania Quakers at noon on Sunday.
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