Sports so often come down to opportunity — which team gets the most chances, and which team takes the biggest advantage of them.
It was those opportunities that defined the North Carolina field hockey team's spring-opening 2-0 win over Louisville on Friday. Time and again, the Cardinals would press against the Tar Heels' defense, seemingly on the verge of scoring. And time and again, the Tar Heels made crucial stops.
Last fall, the two-time defending national champion Tar Heels had been on a 47-game win streak — the second longest in NCAA field hockey history and the longest active streak in all NCAA sports — when they were upset by the Cardinals.
Despite the loss, UNC was able to bounce back and beat Louisville in the fall season's ACC Championship. Even months removed from that game, the Tar Heels showed that they still had the Cardinals' number.
"We just kept talking about what can we do to shut down certain players on their team,” senior goalie Amanda Hendry said. “It was good to just come out and actually apply what we’ve done in practice, and it was a great start to our season.”
The Cardinals almost set the pace from the get-go, earning two early penalty corners, both of which North Carolina defended. But the Tar Heels would then go on to earn two successive penalty corners of their own, with junior forward Erin Matson putting the ladder in the net.
As the bout continued, it became clear that penalty corners were the name of the game. The Cardinals would finish with 10 corners to UNC's five, but the Tar Heels' staunch defending was able to hold the Cardinals scoreless from the corner, ensuring that they never had an opportunity to take over the game.
“I’ve been working with these specific girls now for almost two years, and we’ve really grown as a corner unit together," Hendry said. "We struggled a little bit in the fall, but I think this game is the best game they’ve ever played as a corner unit, and I was really proud of them.”
On the other side, the Tar Heels were able to take advantage of their own opportunities, converting their five corners attempts into two goals in the ensuing plays, both from Matson. Despite the high efficiency of North Carolina’s play, though, the two-time All-American said her team still has work to do.
"We do a decent job of getting corners when we get inside the circle, but we don’t always put the ball in the back of the net,” Matson said. “It’s gonna be a focus for us this entire spring.”
Head coach Karen Shelton agreed that the team needed to keep improving. While both Louisville and UNC are excellent teams poised to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament this spring, Friday's game came down to the fact that one unit seized its opportunities with both hands, while the other let its slip through their fingers.
"I thought they owned the third quarter and we’re not happy about that,” Shelton said. “But we were able to weather their surge and shut them out and come away with a big win.”
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