An undefeated year that ends with a national championship is the season that every team dreams of having. For the North Carolina field hockey team, that dream became a reality in 2018.
The Tar Heels went 23-0 overall and 6-0 in conference play last season, defeating Maryland 2-0 in the NCAA title game to capture their seventh national championship.
Early season challenges
UNC opened the season with a pair of tough opponents, hosting Michigan and Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Both visiting teams would go on to finish the season ranked in the top 25, and Iowa tested UNC unlike any other team all season. The Tar Heels narrowly escaped that game, winning 2-1 thanks to a late goal by senior Ashley Hoffman in the only overtime win of the season.
After recording eight shutouts in the regular season, North Carolina went into the ACC Tournament riding a 17-game winning streak. UNC had scored 76 goals and conceded just 10 in the 17 games prior to the tournament, making the Tar Heels the clear favorite to retain the ACC crown.
After earning a bye into the semifinals, UNC faced off against Virginia, a team that would later end the year ranked No. 12 in the country. The Tar Heels were able to secure a spot in the ACC Championship after defeating the Cavaliers, 5-1.
Against Virginia, North Carolina scored three goals in the first 12 minutes of play with first-year Erin Matson scoring two goals and assisting on another that afternoon.
In the final game of the tournament, the Tar Heels were able to dominate Wake Forest, 7-2, en route to the program’s 21st ACC Championship. The title expanded North Carolina's ACC championship lead over second-place Maryland by more than double. Maryland moved to the Big Ten conference in 2014.
Despite not scoring or assisting in either game, senior Ashley Hoffman, the captain of the team, was named MVP of the tournament for the second year in a row based on her remarkable passing abilities and defensive talents.
However, Hoffman and the rest of the Tar Heels weren’t satisfied with simply being conference champions. They quickly set their sights on the most important goal of the season: winning a national championship.
North Carolina breezed through the first round of the NCAA tournament, defeating William & Mary, 4-0, with Matson scoring one and assisting two more goals for UNC.
The next two rounds of the tournament featured rematches with a tandem of formidable opponents from earlier in the season. That didn’t stop the Tar Heels from sweeping through Michigan and Wake Forest again, winning 5-2 and 4-1, respectively.
With those two wins, the national championship game was set. North Carolina was slated to play Maryland, a team that had just defeated then-No. 3 Princeton in overtime and boasted a record of 22-2 heading into the final game of the year.
Sophomore Meredith Sholder was able to find junior Megan DuVernois on a breakaway to score the first goal of the game for UNC in the 21st minute. Just 10 minutes later, Matson was able to put the Tar Heels up two by capitalizing on the rebound from her own shot. North Carolina clinched the victory, 2-0, and the national title in the process.
Hoffman was named MVP of yet another tournament, proving how integral the senior’s role was to the undefeated season. In addition to Hoffman, the field hockey team saw Malin Evert, Morgan Goetz, Eva van’t Hoog, Leila Evans and Mary Kathryn Harrah graduate this past spring.
Four of the six seniors that have moved on from the program were starters in the national title game against Maryland. The 2019 season will be an opportunity for young talents like Matson, Sholder and goalkeeper Amanda Hendry to step up even more in an attempt to repeat as national champions.
The field hockey team will take on Duke in an exhibition match on Saturday, Aug. 24 before heading to Ann Arbor, Mich., to compete in this year’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
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