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Wednesday December 7th

UNC field hockey withstands pressure from Virginia to win 25th ACC Championship, 3-2

<p>UNC freshman midfielder/back Sietske Bruning (17) and UNC freshman forward/midfielder Ashley Sessa (3) attempt to steal the ball during the ACC Championships at Jack Katz Stadium in Duhram, NC on Nov 4, 2022. UNC won 3-2.</p>
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UNC freshman midfielder/back Sietske Bruning (17) and UNC freshman forward/midfielder Ashley Sessa (3) attempt to steal the ball during the ACC Championships at Jack Katz Stadium in Duhram, NC on Nov 4, 2022. UNC won 3-2.

On Friday, the undefeated No. 1 UNC field hockey (17-0, 6-0 ACC) team captured its 25th ACC Championship as it defeated No. 5 Virginia (13-7, 3-3 ACC), 3-2, in the ACC Championship final. 

What happened?

A defensively charged quarter began without a single shot from either team through the first ten minutes of play until first-year forward and midfielder Ryleigh Heck drew a penalty corner with just over 5 minutes to play in the first quarter.

Senior forward Erin Matson attempted a shot off the penalty corner which was blocked by Virginia and then rebounded by sophomore midfielder Lisa Slinkert who shot and scored the Tar Heels’ first goal of the afternoon, giving them a 1-0 advantage to end the first.

Despite converting on their first penalty corner, the Tar Heels failed to convert on their subsequent three corners in the second quarter. The Tar Heels continued their aggressive attack, fueling their offense through penalty corners as Heck scored UNC’s second goal of the half on a corner off an assist from first-year midfielder and back Sietske Brüning.

UNC’s defense constricted the Cavaliers throughout the first half, holding Virginia to zero shots at the break. In comparison, the Tar Heels put up nine shots in the first half, four of which were on goal. 

UNC went into the break boasting a 2-0 advantage, returning to their usual offensive preeminence after an unusual scoreless first half in the team’s semi-final win over Syracuse on Wednesday.  

The Cavaliers quickly put up their first shot of the contest early in the third quarter. 

As the Tar Heels’ offense slowed in the second half, the Cavaliers’ ramped up. Virginia opened the fourth quarter with a goal, narrowing the UNC lead to just one and putting game pressure on the Tar Heels. 

UNC responded with a goal from Heck, her second of the game, to extend their lead to 3-1 with three minutes to play.

Back and forth the two went as the Cavaliers narrowed the gap once again with a goal off a penalty corner with 1:35 to go in the game; Tar Heels led 3-2. 

The Tar Heels strategically used the clock to their advantage, draining the final 90 seconds and holding on to win.

Who stood out?

Matson’s consistent offensive pushes may not have added to her lead as the ACC career points leader, but her efforts kept the Virginia defense on its toes. Matson’s prowess as a scorer commands keenly focused defensive attention. Her aggressive play helped open up shots for her teammates in Friday’s championship win.

When was it decided?

Despite a slower offensive attack in the second half, the Tar Heels weathered a fourth quarter push from the Cavaliers as they narrowed the two goal halftime deficit to just one by the time the final buzzer sounded.

Why does it matter?

The Tar Heels’ championship on Friday marks their sixth consecutive ACC title, and their 25th all-time, the most of any program.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this victory is that no player on roster has lost the ACC Championship during their time at UNC.

The Tar Heels now enter the NCAA Tournament seeking redemption for last season’s unexpected first round loss to eventual national champion Northwestern. UNC won each of the three national championships from 2018 through 2020. Now, the undefeated ACC Champions look to reclaim its status as national champion. 

When do they play next?

The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament begin Thursday Nov. 10 and Saturday Nov. 12, with games being played at campus sites. The Tar Heels, who will almost certainly have a first round bye given their undefeated top-ranked status, will likely next play Nov. 12.

@LucasThomae

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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