Following the North Carolina field hockey team's streak-breaking loss to Louisville on Friday, the Tar Heels had to face another ACC foe who had been recently defeated twice by the Cardinals.
The team faced Duke at the Jack Katz Stadium on Sunday, just a two-day turnaround after its loss on Friday. Louisville not only broke UNC’s 47-game winning streak, but also beat Duke two games in a row last weekend, 3-0 and 3-1, respectively. It was safe to say both teams were desperate for a win.
“It was hugely important for our group to come out and play well, and we did from the opening whistle," North Carolina head coach Karen Shelton said.
The team started out strong with an aggressive offense and a goal scored by junior forward Erin Matson at the end of the first quarter.
“Today’s offense was perfect; I feel like we need to play like that every single game,” Matson said.
Coming out of halftime, UNC made another goal in the third quarter, tipped in by senior midfielder Eva Smolenaars off of an assist by junior forward Meredith Sholder. For Smolenaars, who was named to the Preseason All-ACC Team, it was her first goal of the season.
The team finished strong with an electric fourth quarter, first with an unassisted goal made by junior forward Hannah Griggs, who dove to the left post to sink the ball into the back of the net.
Finally, on a fourth quarter penalty corner, Matson assisted sophomore back Romea Riccardo in taking a near shot to make her first career goal.
"I got the ball from Erin and picked my head up and saw a clear line to goal and no one coming towards me, so I kinda just ripped it," Riccardo said.
UNC outplayed its opponent to win its first conference game, ending with 17 shots, one save and eight penalty corners, compared to Duke’s three, five and one, respectively.
Coming back from such a rattling loss and beating their rivals was very important for the team's morale.
"We felt like we didn’t play like ourselves on Friday," Matson said. "After the game, we watched film, learned from it and got angry. We got upset, but once our heads hit the pillows that night, it was all eyes on Duke.”
Smolenaars reiterated Matson's point regarding how necessary the win was for the group to get back on track.
“This win was very important for us to get our confidence back, and see that we are a great team as long as we play together and have fun with each other," she said.
A big difference between the Duke and Louisville games was the strength of UNC’s defense. The team learned from its mistakes on Friday and displayed exceptional communication skills, urgency, awareness and collaboration on the field, resulting in few shots on Duke’s end and a shutout final score.
“We had a sense of what we wanted to do, where we wanted to go with the ball and we played more simply and quickly," Shelton said. "We passed the ball sooner, and that was a big difference from Friday.”
The rest of the season will pose challenges for the Tar Heels, who were projected the ACC preseason favorite, and the team has the mindset of handling each game as it comes in hopes of starting another historic win streak.
“Every single team in the ACC is neck and neck and capable of winning the ACC tournament," Riccardo said. "I think whoever comes to play that day, makes those connections on the field and works together as a team is going to be the team that comes out with the win.”
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