Ashley Hoffman leads UNC field hockey to 21st ACC Championship in 7-2 win
Senior midfielder Ashley Hoffman (13) dribbles the ball during the ACC Championship at Karen Shelton Stadium on November 4, 2018 where UNC beat Wake Forest 7-2. Hoffman was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and was named MVP of UNC's field hockey team this season. Hoffman one both of these awards last year as well.
Those were the words Ashley Hoffman heard from the North Carolina announcer before the field hockey team played its first game of the ACC Championship this year. It turns out it wasn’t too much.
Hoffman, the senior captain of the UNC field hockey team, as well as two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year was named tournament MVP for the second year in a row, off the heels of UNC's victory over Wake Forest to clinch the 2018 ACC Championship.
The game went as most of the games have gone this season, with the North Carolina machine moving through opponents one-by-one on its way to an undefeated season. A 7-2 victory over Wake Forest brought home the team’s 21st ACC Championship in 25 appearances in the ACC title game.
It is easy to become overly confident in the Tar Heels. They've outscored opponents by an 88-13 margin. By all accounts, the team had plenty of reason to let its foot off the pedal at times during this season.
“On days we give them off, they come out here and work,” head coach Karen Shelton said. “It’s really, really impressive. We don’t tell them to. We don’t encourage it, we don’t say, ‘well I think you should do this;’ they do it on their own.”
It’s a team atmosphere that emphasizes playing for itself, with Hoffman at the very heart of it.
“She holds our team together, from front to back,” first-year forward Erin Matson said. “We are just so lucky that our captain is as strong as her. She definitely, I think we all have a little more left in the tank, but I know she is going to be ready to step it up the next couple of games.”
Hoffman’s full impact can't be captured in the box score, even though her statistical impact is significant. As the leader of the defense in a pressing system, Hoffman is the quarterback of the team. She starts the attack on offense and organizes the stops on defense.
She knows this team is special, knows the players’ connection to one another is special.
“We have so much fun together,” Hoffman said. “Other teams there’s been cliques, there’s, you know girls, drama. This team is a family.”
The sense of community has helped the team stay humble throughout its run. UNC has put an emphasis on taking the season just one game at a time. It’s a strategy that has led to 19 victories in a row.
The next game though? The next game is in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a place several players, including Hoffman, have been before. It’s also a place where the Tar Heels have fallen short. The team last won a national championship in 2009.The Tar Heels have been runner up five times since then, including the 2015 and 2016 seasons. If the team wants to bring home its seventh national title, it will have to remember to keep that humble mentality.
“You never can underestimate a team, no matter who they are,” Hoffman said. “The next game is the most important. Play this out because you don’t want to look ahead and expect any game of the season, no matter who it is.”
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