The No. 2 North Carolina field hockey team picked up a 5-1 season-opening win over No. 3 Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge on Friday, aided by strong performances by several first-years.
North Carolina wasted no time getting on the board, as just two minutes in, first-year Ryleigh Heck scored a goal to give the team an early lead.
By the end of the first period, the Tar Heels were outshooting the Wolverines, 6-0. Michigan looked to equalize when the second quarter got under way, but two shots and a penalty corner were quickly shut down.
After a wide shot by senior forward Erin Matson, UNC advanced its lead to two with another first-career goal by first-year Ashley Sessa. Despite Michigan’s best efforts, the Tar Heels outshot the Wolverines 8-3 at the half with seven shots on goal.
After a corner and a blocked shot, the Wolverines were finally able to put themselves on the scoreboard in the third period. The Tar Heels responded with three shots in the five minutes following the goal, but play was suspended due to a lightning delay.
Following the stoppage, UNC didn’t lose its momentum. Two minutes after play resumed, Matson added another goal for North Carolina to extend the lead.
Michigan tried to respond with two shots in the span of a minute. Then, Sessa turned things back in her team’s favor with two penalty corners and a shot on goal before the end of the period. The first-year forward and midfielder had another shot on goal in the beginning of the fourth period, followed by a shot on goal by senior Paityn Wirth.
Three minutes into the game’s final quarter, Sessa had her second goal of the game. She succeeded in having her first college hat trick with another goal just two minutes later to give the Tar Heels a 5-1 lead.
First-year North Carolina goalie Kylie Walbert saved two shots on goal in the final nine minutes of the game to secure the win.
Who stood out?
First-years proved essential to UNC’s success in their season opener. Both of their first-half goals came from new additions to the team, and Walbert saw significant time in the cage, during which she had three saves.
Sessa had three goals in her impressive debut, showing promise for the rest of the season.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels seemed to be in a comfortable position at halftime, when they had a two-goal lead and held a 7-1 shot advantage.
The UNC attack came out aggressively after the break, but the narrative began to shift in the third quarter when the Wolverines secured their first goal. However, UNC came back from the lightning delay strong with Matson’s goal, and when Sessa scored back-to-back goals in the span of two minutes, the Tar Heels' put the game out of reach.
Why does it matter?
UNC’s postseason ended earlier than expected last year with a first round loss to Northwestern — their first opening-round loss since 2008. The Tar Heels began last season with a matchup against the Wolverines and dropped that game, 3-2.
Moreover, when the team's 2018 and 2019 seasons also began with ACC-Big Ten Challenge matchups against Michigan, North Carolina won both games and went on to have undefeated seasons en route to consecutive national championships.
When do they play next?
North Carolina will finish the weekend with another ACC-Big Ten Challenge faceoff against No. 5 Iowa on Sunday.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.