When asked for one word to describe her approach to the 2022 season, UNC field hockey senior midfielder Meredith Sholder paused. For 57 seconds, exactly.
Just one word to express the pent-up urge to avenge last season’s poorly-met expectations? A tough task.
UNC field hockey had a worse-than-normal season last year, posting a 13-7 record and dropping its opportunity to win its fourth consecutive national championship. Holes in the defense and the attack, a tough travel schedule and residual COVID-19 effects left the team sputtering to a halt by the end of the season.
Reflecting upon last fall and how the team is moving forward into 2022, Sholder finally conjured up a word after her drawn-out moment of thought — relentless.
“We have so much potential coming into this fall,” Sholder said. “But we need to be relentless if we want to turn that potential into something great.”
The Tar Heels have worked tirelessly during their first true offseason since the COVID-19 pandemic to address the shortcomings of the 2021 season, prioritizing conditioning, signing new coaches, implementing better defensive strategies and picking up new talent for the roster.
Inconsistencies in the young backfield last year were at the top of North Carolina’s offseason to-do list, addressed by the hiring of assistant coach Caitlin Van Sickle. As a starting defender for UNC’s 2009 national championship team, Van Sickle brought not just veteran leadership to the team, but strategies in footwork, man-marking and zonal defense.
Implementing new drills and a renewed mindset, Van Sickle is working to gel the backs, spearheaded by senior Romea Riccardo, to form a tight line. Volunteer assistant coach Manuel Garcia Nieto will also join the Tar Heels on the sidelines, bringing 15 years of professional coaching experience to the team.
Despite graduating key midfielders last year, the Tar Heels still possess seasoned weapons in their offensive foundation. Senior forward Erin Matson is exercising her fifth year of eligibility to continue to play for the Tar Heels after leading the nation in scoring in 2021. Previous starters in the midfield, Sholder and senior midfielder Paityn Wirth, are also returning for their sixth and fourth years, respectively.