Head coach Karen Shelton admitted that she was “worried about this one.”
To open the NCAA Tournament on Friday, the No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team had a difficult first round matchup against Stanford, which features some of the best players in the country.
The Cardinal’s goalkeeper, Kelsey Bing, is a member of the United States National Team and is “one of the best in the college game,” according to Shelton. Stanford also boasts a very skillful offensive player in Corinne Zanolli. At the end of the regular season, Zanolli was tied with UNC’s Erin Matson for most goals per game in the country with 1.5.
However, teamwork made the dream work for the the Tar Heels, and that was as evident as ever in their 4-0 victory.
“Stanford was definitely a good team and they’re very hard working and have a couple key players who are very dangerous,” senior Feline Guenther said. “However, I think we did a good job in shutting these people down early and really playing the easy passes and going step by step. We utilized our chances and I’m happy that we scored four goals.”
Guenther was a prime example of the teamwork that the Tar Heels used to dominate the Cardinal. She doesn’t typically fill up the stat sheet, but the senior recorded one goal and one assist on Friday.
Someone that does typically fill up the stat sheet is sophomore Erin Matson, and she didn’t disappoint against Stanford. The ACC Offensive Player of the Year beat Bing, her fellow U.S. National Team member, twice for goals.
“Obviously, Kelsey Bing, she’s an amazing goalie and we respect the crap out of her,” Matson said. “We just wanted to play around her with one-two touch passing, and that’s what we did.”
The talent of the Stanford goalkeeper can’t be overstated. She is one of just three college field hockey players that made the National Team, along with Matson and a player from Duke.
“I think our team’s biggest strength is that we have so many good players,” Guenther said. “Our goal was more or less just to pass around her, pass the Carolina way, be together and beat her together. Because one-on-one, she will definitely be a strong player.”
Friday was also a display of defensive dominance for North Carolina. The Tar Heels stopped three tough penalty corners throughout the game. UNC's goalkeeper, junior Amanda Henry, saved all three. Then, senior Alex Haplin, another UNC goalkeeper, came into the game in the final minutes and made a save of her own.
“We were so worried about their goalkeeper, but our goalkeepers were stellar,” Shelton said. “Clean sheet for both of them, and they had hard shots on target.”
The Tar Heels will look to continue their outstanding team play on Sunday as they face a team they are familiar with in Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. North Carolina defeated the Hawkeyes earlier this season, part of a second straight flawless regular season. UNC's larger goal, though – a second straight national championship – is still out there.
“Obviously, I was super motivated to win this tournament and get into the next round,” Guenther said. “Not only because I’m a senior, but also because I enjoy every minute with this team.”
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