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Wednesday February 8th

Previewing the Final Four field before UNC field hockey vies for another perfect season

<p>UNC sophomore forward Erin Matson (1) defends against Iowa senior defender Katie Birch (11). The Hawkeyes were tied with the Tar Heels 1-1 at halftime. The Tar Heels won 2-1 on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 in Karen Shelton Stadium.&nbsp;</p>
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UNC sophomore forward Erin Matson (1) defends against Iowa senior defender Katie Birch (11). The Hawkeyes were tied with the Tar Heels 1-1 at halftime. The Tar Heels won 2-1 on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019 in Karen Shelton Stadium. 

This weekend, the North Carolina field hockey team will look to finish what it started and go for perfection.

Again.

If the Tar Heels can win two games and capture another national championship, they would complete a second straight undefeated season and extend the nation's longest winning streak to an astounding 46 games going back to the start of last year.

Last weekend, UNC handled Stanford in the first round, 4-0, then overcame an early Iowa goal to defeat the Hawkeyes 2-1 in the second round. Now, with an NCAA title on the line, the Tar Heels are left competing with three teams that they have already beaten this season.

On Friday at 1 p.m., North Carolina will compete against Boston College, whom they beat 3-2 in the regular season, then 3-1 on Nov. 10 to capture the ACC Championship. Outside of those games, the Eagles lost just once in seven games against ACC foes, and will be licking their chops for another chance at beating UNC.

"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.

@ryantwilcox

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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