DURHAM – Coaches will often speak about the impact a first goal can have on a player’s psyche. After the first one goes in, everything gets simpler. At least, that’s how the theory goes.
North Carolina field hockey is hoping that’s the case with first-year Eva Smolenaars.
One of three Dutch players on the Tar Heels' roster, the midfielder scored the first goal of her collegiate career in No. 7 UNC’s 2-1 overtime victory against No. 10 Boston College on Saturday. It was the team's first game at Duke’s Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium, its temporary home for the 2017 season.
On a day where the Tar Heels dominated the proceedings and had several prolonged stretches of good play offensively, Smolenaars was one of the few UNC players who could actually convert a good chance into a goal.
Just over three minutes into the game, she opened the scoring as her shot found its way past Boston College goalkeeper Sarah Dwyer.
“I went to the circle and I saw an open spot,” Smolenaars said. “So nobody came up to me and I eventually thought, ‘Just shoot it.’”
Her intuition was right.
Once Smolenaars saw the ball in the back of the net, the joy came. She immediately thought of everybody back home in the Netherlands. Despite being thousands of miles away, Smolenaars’ family was watching her big moment thanks to an online stream.
Even in the immediate moments after her goal, she thought of her loved ones.
“Knowing that they’re watching and my parents are watching from back home, it was a great feeling,” Smolenaars said.
If not for the goal, UNC may have very well come up empty-handed from an offensively dominant first half.
The Tar Heels registered 11 shots in the opening 35 minutes and had several opportunities to double their advantage, but were unable to break through. When UNC was at its best Saturday, Boston College was constantly under pressure and struggled to get the ball out of its own end.
Yet, there was no more scoring for quite some time after Smolenaars’ effort.
“I thought in the first half we could have scored one or two more to make the game not so close,” head coach Karen Shelton said.
According to Shelton, Smolenaars has been quickly thrown into a position with important responsibilities. Playing in the midfield, she needs to handle advanced roles, while also being able to manage defensive duties.
“I think it’s good that she got her first goal,” Shelton said. “I always like to say, ‘Break the seal', you know, and the next one’s easier.”
Like the rest of UNC’s young players – the Tar Heels have nine first-years – Shelton expects Smolenaars to continue to improve, although getting used to the grind of conference play will certainly be an adjustment.
UNC junior Ashley Hoffman, who scored the game-winning overtime goal against Boston College, shared that sentiment.
“The new players are finding their spot," Hoffman said. "They’re getting used to their job."
For Smolenaars, transitioning to life in the United States has also been like a job.
At times the transition has been hard because of how close she is to her family emotionally, and how far she is physically. In addition to that, she says that the physicality of American field hockey is different from the type played in the Netherlands, where there’s more of an emphasis on technique.
However, she said coming to play at UNC has been “such a cool experience.” One of Smolenaars’ favorite things about Chapel Hill has been the level of school spirit and camaraderie around the campus, which she said doesn’t exist on a similar level at universities back home.
The reception she’s received from her teammates has helped, too.
“The girls are so welcoming and they help me with so many things,” she said. “They’re like my second family.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.