In a defensive battle, the North Carolina field hockey team snuck one goal past the Virginia Cavaliers to win its fifth consecutive ACC title.
Virginia took control of the ball in the first, taking a shot in just the first minute of the period that was blocked by first-year goalkeeper Abigail Taylor. Just eight minutes later, the Cavaliers drew a corner and Taylor dove down and made another save with her left leg guard.
North Carolina got its first shots on the board in the second quarter off junior midfielder Paityn Wirth’s penalty corner. The first was taken by senior midfielder Cassie Sumfest off the insert, which was rebounded by a Cavalier and shot again by first-year midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars, who missed just wide of the net.
The Tar Heels had an improved offensive production in the third period, with senior forward Erin Matson drawing UNC’s second corner of the afternoon with about 11 minutes on the clock. Upon receiving the ball from Wirth’s insert, Matson hesitated before taking a straight shot, which was knocked off a defender’s stick, past the goalie’s left hand and into the back of the cage.
Following UNC’s goal, the Tar Heels played tighter and quicker, blocking Virginia’s penalty corner attempt and forcing another Cavalier shot high. With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Virginia employed an empty net to have a one-player advantage in their scoring third in attempts to score. UNC, however, took control of the rest of regulation and wound the clock down to win the ACC title, 1-0.
Who stood out?
Matson made a difference for her team by scoring the only goal of the game — her 63rd point of the season. She was also named the ACC Tournament MVP for the second year in a row.
Head coach Karen Shelton shouted out Taylor in the huddle at the end of the game for a shutout win, which was her third of the season. Her two saves in the first quarter changed the tide for the Tar Heels, which gave the offense confidence to penetrate Virginia’s defensive third in the second half.
Taylor was named to the All-ACC team along with Matson and senior midfielders Meredith Sholder and Cassie Sumfest.
When was it decided?
Both teams showcased stellar defense with a combined total of nine shots on the game. The difference came at corner conversions, and although both teams drew two opportunities, only UNC was able to capitalize on theirs in the third quarter.
When Virginia employed its empty net in the fourth quarter, North Carolina took advantage of the Cavaliers’ nerves and forced long passes up and down the field to trim the clock down. With two minutes left and mostly Tar Heel possession, it was clear the five-time ACC champs would come out on top once again.
Why does it matter?
The Tar Heels got to the ACC Finals through a hard-fought 3-2 overtime win against Wake Forest in the first round and a 4-1 bout against host team Syracuse in the second round.
This is the team’s fifth consecutive ACC title and 24th overall. Winning this game granted North Carolina an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels are one of the 10 automatic-qualifying teams that will play in the NCAA Tournament for the 2021 national title. The official bracket, composed of 18 teams, will be announced tonight after the 10 p.m. selection show that will pick the final eight teams.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.