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The Daily Tar Heel

Preview: USAFH Senior Nexus Championship includes twelve UNC field hockey players

UNC senior forward Meredith Sholder (2) prepares to carry the ball down the field during the Tar Heels' home matchup against Boston College at Karen Shelton Stadium on Sept. 24, 2021. The Tar Heels won 6-1.

Twelve out of 144 athletes playing in USA Field Hockey's Senior Nexus Championship this week are on the 2022 UNC field hockey roster. 

The Senior NXC, hosted at the Virginia Beach Regional Training Center, is the final stage of the Nexus, USA Field Hockey's Olympic Development Pathway Program. The championship, which begins gameplay on Monday, gives each athlete another opportunity to compete for spots on the 2022-23 U.S. Women’s National Team and Junior USWNT Selection Camps. 

Four of the 12 Tar Heels competing — Erin Matson, Romea Riccardo, Meredith Sholder and Paityn Wirth — are seniors. The four juniors competing include Katie Dixon, Ciana Riccardo, Kiersten Thomassey and Mia Leonhardt. Those eight upperclassmen are joined by sophomores Kennedy Cliggett and Kelly Smith, along with first-years Kylie Walbert and Ryleigh Heck. Former UNC player Lauren Moyer is also competing in the championship.

A player from each position on the UNC roster was selected to participate in the championship.

Matson and Sholder, who will both use their fifth year of eligibility to compete this fall, are two of the forwards selected for the Senior NXC. 

Matson has had a very accomplished career at UNC, establishing herself as the UNC career leader in goals as well as the ACC leader in goals. The two-time National Field Hockey Coaches Association National Player of the Year is also a current member U.S. Women's National Team.

Sholder’s selection comes after starting all 20 games last season in midfield, although she’s listed as a forward on the team roster. She was also named to the 2021-22 U.S. National Team, alongside Matson.

Sophomore Cliggett continues to build upon her resume of playing in elite games, as she's a member of the 2021-22 Women's National Indoor Development Team and USA Rise Junior National Team. Cliggett’s versatility helps to maneuver in different areas as a forward and midfielder as she represented the U.S. in Ireland at the 5-Nations Tournament for the U21 team in June. 

Junior Leonhardt will be looking forward to picking up her stick this week after missing out on the last collegiate season. The Senior NXC will provide the two-way player with some experience at forward and midfield playing alongside other top athletes before the fall season in August. 

Two true midfielders were selected for the Senior NXC in senior Wirth and junior Thomassey. Wirth was a member of the 2021-22 U.S. National Team and the FIH Pro League. Thomassey played in 19 games this past season, scoring her first collegiate goal against Miami.

Dixon, another midfielder who also plays back, represented the U.S. as part of the U21 team at the 5-Nations Tournament in Ireland. Three other UNC field hockey players have been selected in the back position to compete in the Senior NXC. 

A top-10 recruit in the class of 2021, Smith started in all 20 games last season as a first-year and is a member of the U.S. Indoor National Team.

The Riccardo sisters are the remaining players in the back position. Last season, the elder Romea started 14 games on the back line while also providing timely assists in games against Drexel and Duke. Her younger sister, Ciana, was the recipient of the Dawson Family Most Improved Player Award last season.

The only Tar Heel goalkeeper selected to play in the Senior NXC is first-year Walbert. Walbert played in USAFH Nexus events twice in 2021 and will see her teammates play up close on the senior level this week. Fellow incoming first-year Heck will also have the chance to compete alongside her UNC family at the midfielder/forward position.

@dthsports |