There’s no place like home.
The No. 6 North Carolina field hockey team played its first home game of the season against Miami (Ohio) Sunday and won the match, 7-2.
“It’s certainly great to be back home,” head coach Karen Shelton said.
She couldn’t have been more right. The Tar Heels opened their season on a six-game road trip for the first time since 2015, but unlike that road stretch when the team went 5-1, UNC could only muster a 3-3 record this time around.
This was definitely unusual for the reigning champions, as the last time the team lost three games in an entire season was 2017.
Despite their record, the Tar Heels were excited to finally have their fans behind them at Karen Shelton Stadium.
“It was loud, it was exciting — we also had a huge turnout,” senior forward Erin Matson said. "It was really energizing for us to know that everybody came to watch us play, and I’m glad we put on a show for them.”
Matson said how exciting it was for first-years to play at their debut home game — a moment she knows they have thought about often.
Many of the young players made contributions in the win. They include first-year goalkeeper Abigail Taylor, who was solid in the net; first-year midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars, who assisted on a goal and sophomore midfielder Kiersten Thomassey, who scored her first goal as a Tar Heel.
Yet, in the midst of the welcoming atmosphere, there was still a stern sense of focus on their minds.
“Our main goal was to take a step from how we played against Drexel,” Matson said. “We thought we played a little slow, it wasn’t really Carolina hockey. Even though the score was good, we thought we could’ve played better and raised our level a bit more.”
UNC definitely played ‘Carolina hockey’ by being aggressive on both defense and offense Sunday. Miami had only four shots on goal the entire game, while the Tar Heels had 22.
“Coming into the game, we had so much to give,” senior forward Hannah Griggs said. “Our biggest push was defending our home. We were defending from the front, working on pushing that up, and we didn’t want to let them through.”
As for scoring, the Tar Heels found success through what Shelton describes as “two-touch passing.”
“You receive it, and you pass it,” Shelton said. “We did that really well, and one of the ways that makes two-touch passing simpler is off-ball movement. I think we moved off the ball really well with support runs and getting available and free.”
Although Shelton was pleased with the Tar Heels’ performance, she acknowledged the team’s need for growth and improvement.
“We’re not there yet,” Shelton said. “We know that we can play at a high level, and I think we haven't been playing quite as well. I was pleased with the step we took (against Miami), but we’re not satisfied. We know we have a long way to go.”
UNC expects to have more success going forward, as the team’s record is also a reflection of its competition. The Tar Heels opened their season with three top teams in the country, including national runner-ups No. 2 Michigan, No. 3 Iowa and No. 13 Princeton.
Although the slate won't get any easier, the Tar Heels hope the early tests will push them through the bulk of ACC competition.
“There’s no easy team on our schedule — all we can do is take it one game at a time," Shelton said. "As long as we’re learning, getting better, staying positive, staying together and working hard, good things will happen.”