The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday February 8th

Assessing UNC field hockey's NCAA tournament outlook after ACC postseason title

The UNC field hockey team huddles together on Sunday Sept. 15, 2019, before playing William and Mary. UNC won 8-0.
Buy Photos The UNC field hockey team huddles together on Sunday Sept. 15, 2019, before playing William and Mary. UNC won 8-0.

When the North Carolina field hockey team trumped Boston College in the ACC Tournament final on Sunday, it preserved a second-straight perfect season.

Now, starting Friday, the Tar Heels will look to finish the job.

UNC will host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament this weekend, and look to follow up a 23-0 national championship campaign in 2018 with another flawless year in 2019. This season, the top-ranked Tar Heels have already knocked off seven other members of the top 10 based on RPI — Virginia, Duke, Louisville (twice), Boston College (twice), Syracuse, Princeton and Iowa — and will be the tournament's No. 1 overall seed for the second-straight year.

In the first round, the Tar Heels will play the winner of a Wednesday play-in game between Stanford and Miami of Ohio. Should UNC win that game, which will be Friday at noon, Karen Shelton's squad will then take on the winner of Duke-Iowa on Sunday. The winner of that matchup will advance to Winston-Salem, N.C. and the NCAA semifinals the following weekend.

"Nobody has an easy bracket," Shelton told GoHeels. "We wouldn't expect our path to be easy, nor would we want it to be. We're just going to focus on our next game, against either Stanford or Miami. We hope we can take what we learned this weekend and apply it when we play on Friday."

Six of the top eight field hockey teams in the country are in the ACC, so winning the conference tournament is nothing to sneeze at. North Carolina beat Louisville and Boston College by identical scores of 3-1 to capture their third conference title in a row and the 22nd in program history.

The Tar Heels got there on the backs of a number of veteran leaders, plus sophomore standout Erin Matson. 

Matson was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year after posting team-highs in goals (24) and assists (15) for UNC, despite missing multiple games while playing for the national team in India. UNC's next four highest point scorers — Marissa Creatore, Catherine Hayden, Yentl Leemans and Megan DuVernois — are all seniors.

North Carolina's defense has been stout all year, too, holding opponents to just 19 goals all season for an average of exactly one goal per game. Leemans, a midfielder, won the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year award, helping the Tar Heels to six shutout wins this season.

As mentioned, Virginia and Louisville, two of the other top three seeds in the NCAA tournament, are a combined 0-3 against UNC this season. The team that could end up posing the most problems for UNC? UConn. 

The second-seeded Huskies are 18-3 on the season and breezed through their conference schedule, going 7-0 in the Big East and capturing the postseason conference title with a 2-0 win over Old Dominion. UConn senior Svea Boker leads the team with 20 goals and is third on the team with 13 assists, playing in all 21 games.

It seems fitting that the Tar Heels' potential national title matchup, to finish off back-to-back undefeated seasons and send UNC's seniors off with another championship, could see them looking for a win over an eighth — yes, eighth — different team currently ranked in the top 10.

@ryantwilcox

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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