The undefeated No. 1 UNC field hockey team clinched a spot in the ACC championship game after defeating No. 6 Louisville, 3-1, on Friday afternoon in Newton, Mass. This is the fifth year in a row that UNC will compete for the conference title.
UNC's (18-0, 6-0 ACC) offense took over early. Just under seven minutes in, Erin Matson drove the ball into the circle, bypassed several defenders on the way to the net and sent a shot into the left corner that passed by Louisville (15-5, 4-2 ACC) keeper Hollyn Barr.
Three minutes after Matson’s goal, the Tar Heels tacked on another score on a penalty corner. Barr initially deflected a shot by Matson, only for senior Yentl Leemans to scoop the rebound and pass it to junior Eva Smolenaars. After a Louisville defender deflected Smolenaars’ first pass, she recollected the ball and passed to senior Feline Guenther, who was in front of the cage. Guenther shot to the right and found the back of the net to put the score at 2-0.
In a game that saw many good chances on both sides, the 2-0 deficit remained until the fourth quarter. North Carolina's early two-goal lead was a precarious situation because Louisville still had plenty of time to make a comeback.
UNC's defense was tested with about eight minutes left when the Cardinals were awarded a penalty stroke after the referees incorrectly called a penalty corner. Louisville’s Carter Ayars took the penalty, shooting to the right of the net. UNC keeper Amanda Hendry dove and blocked the shot, keeping the Cardinals off of the scoreboard.
With about four minutes left, Matson made it 3-0. The sophomore's mid-circle shot put the ball just inside the right post after senior Marissa Creatore broke up a Louisville pass and sent the ball to Matson for the assist.
Before UNC could secure its seventh shutout of the season, the Cardinals responded with a late goal. Louisville’s Bethany Russ scored with just 59 seconds left off a penalty corner, the Cardinals' fourth penalty corner of the period.
North Carolina maintained its 3-1 lead in the closing seconds, sending the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship game.
Who stood out?
Having Matson back in the lineup, who missed three games to compete for the U.S. National Team, proved to be beneficial in Friday’s game.
Matson was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row on Wednesday, and she proved why she earned the award by scoring twice against Louisville. She put on a stellar offensive performance with two goals, 10 shots and six shots on goal.
Matson secured her 23rd and 24th goals of the season on Friday. She is now tied for seventh on UNC's single-season goals list. Three more would move her into a tie for second, but the current record is 36 set by Cindy Werley in 1997.
When was it decided?
Despite a pair of early goals by the Tar Heels, the game came down to UNC playing solid defense late in the fourth quarter. Hendry made a season-high seven saves and did not allow Louisville's offense to gain any momentum outside of the late score.
Why does it matter?
With the win over Louisville, the Tar Heels will be competing in their ninth ACC Championship game in the past 10 years. But for a program that's won its last 41 games, the North Carolina field hockey team won't be satisfied with anything less than a conference title.
“It’s always a thrill to play for a championship and to represent the University of North Carolina,” head coach Karen Shelton said. “Our goal is to play well and our goal is to close out the game a little bit better than we did today. We didn’t play the last eight minutes very well at all.”
When do they play next?
UNC will compete for the ACC title on Sunday, Nov. 10 at 11 a.m. against Boston College in Newton, Mass.
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