WINSTON-SALEM — For the eighth time in program history, and the second year in a row, the UNC field hockey team is a national champion.
The Tar Heels capped off another perfect 23-0 season with a 6-1 win over Princeton on Sunday at Wake Forest’s Kentner Stadium.
Sophomore Erin Matson and junior Eva Smolenaars both scored twice for UNC, Marissa Creatore and Hannah Griggs added goals of their own and North Carolina played some stout defense throughout en route to its 46th consecutive win.
For the third game in a row, the Tar Heels trailed early. Princeton got off to a hot start when Clara Roth assisted Emma Street for a goal in the third minute.
UNC needed another comeback.
Then, as it always does, the offense arrived. In the waning moments of the first quarter, redshirt senior Marissa Creatore flicked a shot on goal that was initially saved. Creatore didn’t flinch, though, and punched the rebound into the goal for North Carolina to tie the game at 1-1.
The Tar Heels didn’t stop there, they were awarded a penalty corner in the 21st minute and after a scrum in the circle, the ball was kicked out to junior midfielder Eva Smolenaars. She collected herself and fired a shot into the top of the goal for UNC’s second of the game, making it 2-1.
North Carolina would go into halftime sporting a 2-1 lead over the Tigers.
That scoreline didn’t last long, as sophomore forward Erin Matson scored her fifth goal of the final four in the 34th minute. That brought Matson’s goal total to 32 on the year and gave UNC a 3-1 lead.
Everything was going as planned for the Tar Heels, all they needed to do was close the game out.
But they didn’t do that, they continued to pile it on. Matson added to her MVP performance, scoring her second goal of the game and ninth of tournament in the 43rd minute. North Carolina was on its way to an eighth national championship, leading 4-1 heading into the fourth quarter.
Smolenaars added an insurance goal in the 50th minute, and Griggs, a sophomore sub, scored in the 58th minute — her first goal of the season.
Who stood out?
Matson finished 2019 with 33 goals, the second most in a single season since Cindy Werley’s 36 in 1997. She scored nine times in four NCAA Tournament games and six times in the Final Four.
Goalie Amanda Hendry had three huge saves in the first half and helped UNC successfully defend four penalty corners in the first 30 minutes.
UNC’s defense, as a whole, ended allowing just one goal.
When was it decided?
Matson’s first goal, just three minutes into the third period, was a backbreaker.
The shot, which Matson sent into the right corner, came off a well executed offensive possession that caught Princeton off guard. The Tigers were playing catch-up from there.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels have comfortably established themselves as the best field hockey team in the country. They have won an ACC-record 46 straight games and are tied with Maryland for the second-most national championships in NCAA history — only trailing Old Dominion’s nine.
Head coach Karen Shelton, who has led all eight of those teams, also moved into a tie for second among coaches in NCAA championship wins.
Who do they play next?
UNC ended a second straight perfect season on Sunday. The team can rest easy until next fall.
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