Marissa Creatore’s first-half goal, which gave the No. 1 Tar Heels a 1-0 lead against rival No. 2 Duke on Friday, was no doubt a special moment in her field hockey career.
The eventual 2-0 win marked UNC’s 33rd consecutive victory in a streak dating back to last season, but for Creatore, the game meant even more. A Chapel Hill native, Creatore faced Duke in her hometown for what was likely the last time in the senior's career, ending her involvement in the fierce rivalry she's been invested in since she was just a kid.
“I always talk about the moment I became a Tar Heel,” Creatore said. “I walked into my second grade class when UNC was playing Duke for the first time in basketball, and I was wearing a yellow shirt. Everyone in my room was either UNC or Duke. Right then I had to make the decision: ‘Which one do I want to be?’"
"And of course, I chose the better blue.”
Even after discovering her love for North Carolina at such a young age, Creatore said she never even considered playing collegiate field hockey for UNC until her sophomore year of high school.
“When I talked to (head coach Karen Shelton) and she asked me to commit, I was kind of taken aback, just because I didn’t feel like I was good enough to play at this level,” Creatore said. “But of course it was an incredible opportunity, so I went with it."
Now, starting in her third straight season for the Tar Heels, Creatore is constantly producing results on the offensive end and serves as one of the team’s greatest contributors. Her 25th-minute score from the left side of the field, assisted by sophomore forward Hannah Griggs, proved to be the game-winner against the Blue Devils.
“Marissa is a tremendous leader and a proud hometown girl,” Shelton said. “I just love her energy. She was like that as a freshman and she’s just worked really hard to improve.”
The goal was Creatore's eighth of the season, and 27th of her career. The forward is on pace to continue her trend of improving her season goal total every year that she's been with the team.
Later, early in the fourth quarter, sophomore forward Erin Matson sealed the game with a goal that put the Tar Heels up 2-0. UNC outshot Duke 14-6, and manufactured eight corners to the Blue Devils' three.
According to Shelton, the intensity and atmosphere of the game served as good experience for UNC moving forward.
“You bank these experiences,” Shelton said. “That was like a national championship game, as close as you can get in the regular season. One versus two, your crosstown rival. That’s as good as it gets.”
A rivalry game of this magnitude serves as a good reminder of the level of competition the Tar Heels could be facing on another championship run.
“Playing Duke is always so intense,” Matson said. “And this year, we talked about it in the pregame meeting. It’s not normal that you meet Duke and they’re ranked number two and we’re ranked one.”
After nearly an entire lifetime of UNC fandom, the weight of Friday's matchup certainly wasn't lost on Creatore, either.
“It’s amazing to get to play in a game like this,” Creatore said. “Number one versus number two, you can only dream about it.”
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