The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team (0-1) lost its season opener to No. 2 Michigan (1-0) on Friday afternoon, 3-2.
The game, a rematch of last spring’s national championship that the Tar Heels won in overtime, was the first of UNC’s two ACC-Big Ten Challenge contests this weekend in Iowa City. Starting its season off against the Wolverines is nothing new for head coach Karen Shelton’s team, as the two have opened the season against each other in 16 of the past 18 seasons, but early nerves ended up dooming North Carolina in the one-point loss.
The Tar Heels struggled to find any offense during the first half, registering only one shot compared to Michigan’s five. UNC senior forward Erin Matson, who came into the game only needing three goals to set a new program career record, only got two shots off the entire game, and neither was on goal. North Carolina went into the locker room down 2-0, but a second half rally certainly was not out of the question.
The Tar Heels came out of the locker room more calm than the first half, and certainly played more of the field hockey fans have grown accustomed to. 10 total shots – and two fourth quarter goals – nearly brought UNC all the way back, but Michigan’s final goal with 10:24 remaining put the Wolverines up 3-1 and out of North Carolina’s reach.
Who stood out?
Senior midfielder Eva Smolenaars and senior forward Hannah Griggs scored both the Tar Heels’ goals, with senior forward Meredith Sholder assisting Smolenaars. Griggs took three of UNC’s 11 shots, turning one into her goal with just under five minutes remaining to trim the deficit to 3-2.
Vice-captain senior midfielder Cassie Sumfest recorded the only other shot on goal for the Tar Heels, but the Michigan goalkeeper made the save.
When was it decided?
When Matson is on the field, anything is possible, so this game was only truly decided when the final buzzer sounded. Although UNC almost pulled off the comeback by adding a late goal, the Tar Heels could not overcome the early deficit.
Why does it matter?
North Carolina – winners of three straight national championships – lost for only the second time during the Erin Matson era, with the first coming last fall to the Louisville Cardinals. Despite the somewhat shocking outcome, as long as Matson is on the field and Coach Shelton is on the sidelines, UNC will still be in title contention throughout the entirety of the season.
When do they play next?
In the team's next contest, the Tar Heels will play No. 3 Iowa on Sunday at noon. The game will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network+.
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