"It's hard to beat a good team three times," head coach Karen Shelton said. "So it's not gonna be easy for us... we'll take it as the next season, really. A fourth season for us."
Still, there is something to be said for that familiarity.
"It's exciting to play a team that we've played before in the season," senior forward Marissa Creatore said. "It makes preparation a little bit easier. But at the same time, it's the Final Four, it's gonna be a tough game no matter what."
On the other side of the Final Four bracket sit Princeton and Virginia. UNC edged the Tigers 4-3 early in the season on Sept. 6, then later that month embarrassed the Cavaliers in Charlottesville, 5-0. In fact, the No. 1 Tar Heels have played and beaten seven other teams currently ranked in the top 10.
They will have sophomore Erin Matson, the nation's leading scorer and the ACC Offensive Player of the Year, plus senior stalwarts Creatore, Catherine Hayden and Megan DuVernois. One important name they could be without, though? Senior midfielder Yentl Leemans, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
Leemans, a Breda, Netherlands native, left the game against the Hawkeyes and is being evaluated for a concussion. Her absence would be a huge blow to a North Carolina defense that has allowed just 20 goals all season, less than a score per game.
On Friday, the Tar Heels will have to contain a Boston College offense that has scored 52 goals, led by 18 from first-year forward Margo Carlin. If they advance, they will face either a Princeton team that has posted 63 goals thus far, or a Virginia team that's found the back of the net 46 times (though the stingy Cavaliers defense has only allowed 24 goals themselves).
If Leemans is unavailable, the onus could be on the UNC offense to produce goals and keep pace with its championship-level competition. A multi-goal effort — or two — could be exactly what North Carolina needs to realize its dream of a second consecutive perfect season.
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