The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team won its 23rd game of the season and the 2018 NCAA Championship on Sunday by defeating No. 2 Maryland, 2-0. It is the Tar Heels' first national title since 2009, when they also defeated the Terrapins.
UNC’s matchup with Maryland was close throughout the first half. Junior forward Megan DuVernois scored first in the 21st minute, when she shot the ball into the net off a pass from sophomore forward Meredith Sholder. The goal gave the Tar Heels an early 1-0 lead.
“I felt ecstatic, but I was also thinking that this is early in the game, there is a still a lot to play," DuVernois said. "We have to keep going, pushing, and keep trying to score because we were not going to be able to let up at all.”
With less than five minutes left in the first half, first-year forward Erin Matson joined in, scoring off her own rebound, and doubled her team’s lead.
“I saw the goalie come out so I was thinking to pull right,” said Matson. “She did a very good job and I give credit to her for getting her knee down so I could not put it through her, and then it came back to me. I knew I had to get it in the air. There was another girl in the cage and I just put it on cage in the air and it was in.”
The Tar Heels led the Terrapins, 2-0, at the half. Before Sunday, UNC was 20-0 when leading at halftime. After finishing the regular season with an undefeated record, winning the ACC Championship, and earning a spot to compete in their third NCAA title game in four years, only 35 minutes separated UNC from earning its ultimate goal, a National Championship.
In the second half, Maryland kept the pressure on North Carolina, and forced UNC to play strong defense. In the 47th minute, the Terrapins were awarded a penalty corner, their third of the second half. Off that penalty corner, the Terrapins shot the ball but UNC sophomore goalkeeper Amanda Hendry managed to kick it away.
In the 58th minute, the Tar Heels were awarded a penalty stroke after Maryland blocked a shot with no goalie in the cage. Matson took the penalty stroke but her shot went wide, hitting off the goal post.
In the final four minutes, desperate to score, Maryland pulled its goalie from the game. Although the Tar Heels were unable to score in the second half, their defense, which has been dominant all season long, kept the Terrapin attack at bay and secured the victory, 2-0.
“In the second half, it was not pretty," head coach Karen Shelton said. “We had a two-goal lead and kind of held on. Maryland was chasing the game, put a lot of pressure on us but we were able to get the shutout. We talked about it in the pregame — defense wins championships. They do not score, then they cannot win.”
North Carolina answered the call defensively. The Tar Heels did something that hasn't been done to Maryland since Sept. 1, 2017. They shut them out.
North Carolina has shut out 10 opponents in 23 games this season. The stalwart defensive unit was anchored by senior Ashley Hoffman, who was named NCAA Tournament MVP. Hoffman was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Matson, Hendry and senior midfielder Eva van't Hoog.
As time ran out, and North Carolina's defense having secured the win, the players on the Tar Heel bench rushed onto the field with smiles on their faces and hugged their teammates. In the stands, UNC fans who traveled to Louisville had a similar reaction.
“It was a perfect ending to a perfect season,” Matson said. “I could not have asked for anything better. We had so many hard games that we fought through together, we fought through overtime, through strokes, cards, games where we were down at halftime, and all of the above.”
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