The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday September 28th

No. 2 UNC field hockey looking to continue hot start against No. 15 Wake Forest

First-year midfielder Ryleigh Heck (12) sprints to prevent an interception from UPenn. UNC beat UPenn at home 4-0 on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022.
Buy Photos First-year midfielder Ryleigh Heck (12) sprints to prevent an interception from UPenn. UNC beat UPenn at home 4-0 on Sunday, Sept. 4, 2022.

The last two times the UNC field hockey team held a 7-0 record, the Tar Heels won national championships. But spending time on the team’s past and distant future directly contradicts the 2022 squad's motto to take each day at a time.

On Friday in Karen Shelton Stadium, another test awaits against No. 15 Wake Forest.

After rebuilding the roster to take care of both sides of the field, No. 2 UNC has already bulldozed through four of the current top-10 teams early in the season.

Dubbed "unsung" by head coach Karen Shelton, senior forward and midfielder Meredith Sholder has spearheaded UNC’s defensive effort since 2018 and was just honored with ACC Defensive Player of the Week. A key weapon against Louisville in the last matchup, Sholder’s corner defense suffocated all six of the Cardinals’ penalty corner opportunities. 

Backing up the defensive unit, UNC's goalkeepers — sophomore Abigail Taylor and first-year Kylie Walbert, who have split halves of games so far — have allowed only six goals this season, the lowest among ACC teams. 

North Carolina will need to prepare to take on Wake Forest’s playmakers in midfielders Meike Lanckohr and Grace Delmotte. 

Lanckohr ranks third in the conference in shots with an average of 3.67 a game, and second in points, totaling 15 in six games. Delmotte leads the ACC in assists with six and is a key factor in why Wake Forest sits atop the conference rankings for assists per game, averaging 3.14 per contest compared to North Carolina’s 2.57. 

The Demon Deacons also have a clear leg up offensively in drawing corner opportunities, an area where UNC has struggled to capitalize on all season. Wake Forest has earned 15 more penalty corners than the Tar Heels thus far and will look to earn these opportunities early on Friday.

After season-opening losses to Iowa and Michigan, Wake Forest has rattled off five straight victories, including a 1-0 win over Ohio State in Columbus.

But coming off four shutout victories in a row, UNC’s front line has also been a force. Playing her fifth and final season, senior forward Erin Matson has had a tremendous start to her season, grabbing week one ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors after scoring in both bouts against top-five ranked Michigan and Iowa in UNC’s season openers. 

First-year forward and midfielders Ashley Sessa and Ryleigh Heck have taken some of the pressure off Matson early this season. The two high school friends have scored four of UNC’s five first-quarter goals, and their efforts add up to a combined 11 points this season.

The Tar Heels and Demon Deacons most recently saw each other in a preseason exhibition game this year and in the quarterfinals of the 2021 ACC Tournament. The tournament was a hard-fought overtime win for UNC, who advanced on to win the 2021 ACC title.

Looking to the past won't mean much on Friday, though, as UNC's forward-looking approach has helped the team race out to its hot start this season.

And, by accumulating its strengths as a team on its home turf, North Carolina has the potential to leave with an 8-0 record — one day closer to repeating team history with a conference or national tournament run.  

@KaitlynSchmid1

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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