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Wednesday February 1st

UNC field hockey wraps up preseason with 4-1 exhibition victory over Duke

Fifth-year senior forward Erin Matson (1) goes to make a pass as she avoids Duke defense. UNC won 4-1 against Duke away on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022.
Buy Photos Fifth-year senior forward Erin Matson (1) goes to make a pass as she avoids Duke defense. UNC won 4-1 against Duke away on Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022.

UNC field hockey finished the preseason with a 4-1 win in an exhibition match against Duke on Saturday night at Jack Katz Stadium.

What happened?

Several turnovers by both teams kicked off the match, as both the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels took a few minutes to settle into the tempo of Saturday’s exhibition. Both teams failed to score until the tail end of the first quarter when fifth-year senior Erin Matson rocketed a pass from first-year forward and midfielder Ryleigh Heck into the back of the goal to put UNC up 1-0.

In the following period, chaos broke out as North Carolina went on a quick 3-0 run in the second quarter’s early minutes. It started with an unassisted goal by Matson, as the veteran dribbled the ball down the field before stopping on a dime to fire a shot past Duke’s goalie. Two more quick goals were facilitated by Matson as she tapped in a cross from junior midfielder and back Katie Dixon and later assisted Heck to open up UNC’s lead to four.

After dominating the second quarter, the Tar Heels had multiple uneventful fast breaks in the third quarter. While North Carolina’s defensive presence was evident — the Tar Heels were able to regain possession easily due to widespread 1-on-1 defensive skills amongst the roster — UNC couldn’t turn its defensive breaks into goals. Oftentimes, UNC turned the ball over at the end of a sequence due to a pass being too hard or too far in front of the intended recipient.

Ultimately, the score stayed stagnant in the third quarter, as the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on multiple penalty corners and UNC was unable to slow the ball down enough to convert on offensive opportunities.

As the clock ticked down in the final quarter, Duke finally answered with a goal from Mary Harkins on a penalty corner. Despite an overall more impressive offensive presence in the second half, Duke failed to recover from UNC’s early lead established in the second quarter. 

Who stood out? 

It comes as no surprise that Matson played a critical role in UNC’s 4-1 win over Duke in Saturday’s exhibition. She got things started with a goal off of Heck’s assist late in the first quarter and followed up with two goals early in the second quarter to complete the hat trick. Her pass to Heck just a few minutes later in the same quarter opened UNC’s lead up to four. Aside from her consistent offensive presence, Matson was a source of defensive pressure in the Tar Heel front field.

Sophomore Abigail Taylor and first-year Kylie Walbert showed great promise on Saturday in the goal. The two were the source of some momentum-saving plays at goalkeeper that showcased their range and agility. By the end of the exhibition, the two combined for at least four saves, ranging from tips with padded hands and sliding kicks. 

When was it decided?

The eventual outcome was clear by the midway point of the second quarter. With a four-goal lead, UNC held strong control of the scoreboard, and the ball rarely crossed over into the UNC’s backfield throughout the latter minutes of the first half.

Aside from just the score, a look at the game’s stats at this point reveals the dominance the Tar Heels displayed on Saturday night. With just over nine minutes left in the second quarter, UNC had outshot Duke 10-1.

Why does it matter?

As UNC gears up for the upcoming ACC-Big Ten Challenge, wins like Saturday’s will provide the Tar Heels with some much-needed confidence. Last fall, North Carolina dropped to an 0-2 record after facing Michigan and Iowa in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge at the start of the 2021 season.

This year, with a much more extensive exhibition schedule to kick off the fall, UNC was able to warm up against ACC foes Wake Forest and Duke. In its win over the Blue Devils on Saturday, the Tar Heels showcased complete control over a team that ranked in the top 30 nationally last year. UNC’s pacing and overall defensive presence displayed will be key to kicking off the 2022 season on a better note.

When do they play next?

UNC will take on Michigan in its first game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Aug. 26. The game will take place in Winston-Salem, N.C., and is set to start at 2:30 p.m.


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