DURHAM — Heading into its top matchup with No. 2 Duke on Friday night at Jack Katz Stadium, the No. 5 North Carolina field hockey team was hoping to celebrate senior night in style.
It could have been an enormous win over the Tar Heels' arch rivals, on Duke's field nonetheless. It could have given lone senior Gab Major a proper send-off in her final home game wearing the Carolina blue uniform.
However, that favorable outcome for the Tar Heels would ultimately fail to come into fruition.
The Blue Devils used a commanding defensive performance from their backline, and two first-half goals from senior Alyssa Chillano, to rattle the Tar Heels from the get-go. They led 2-0 at halftime.
Although UNC clawed its way back into the second half, the late comeback was not enough. Duke escaped with a 3-2 victory and spoiled Major’s big night.
For the majority of the game, Duke’s defense was absolutely smothering. They were physical, hyperactive and vigilant, always prepared for an opposing player as she came in for an attack around the circle. Whenever one UNC player found an opening in the backline, that opening would almost immediately close as soon as it appeared.
“Hats off to Duke,” head coach Karen Shelton said. “I thought they defended superbly. I have to admire it and there's not much more I can say — they played great defensively and made it really tough for our kids. Everything was contested.”
Although the Blue Devils’ defense was impenetrable for various points during the game, the Tar Heels still had several opportunities that they were simply unable to take advantage of.
Following halftime, the Tar Heels scored out of the gate with Eef Andriessen's energizing goal that cut the deficit to 2-1. It was a small victory that was quite short-lived, though. Duke quickly answered just three minutes later when Rose Tynan finished a score off a timely counterattack for the Blue Devils.
Later on, with around five minutes remaining, Feline Guenther scored off a rebound shot that gave UNC one last shed of hope. In spite of these efforts, Duke's defense held strong once again and stopped all the Tar Heels' equalizing attempts in their tracks.
UNC had more shots (18 to 6), shots on goal (8 to 5) and penalty corners (10 to 3), but its inability to finish was the biggest culprit in the end.
“(Duke’s defense) definitely gave us trouble, but we have to find a better way to get around it,” Major said. “I thought we played a good game. We had more shots, but we didn’t put them in the net, so that’s where we fell short.”
Even though this loss hurt team morale for the short term, Shelton believes it will do nothing but benefit the team in the long run as the ACC and NCAA tournaments quickly approach.
“I think we have a team that still can make a lot of noise moving forward,” Shelton said. “So games like this, even though we want to win them, especially against our arch rival, they make us better. We’re only going to take the positives away, and work on what we need to work on.”
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