STORRS, Conn. — The top-ranked North Carolina field hockey team defeated the Nittany Lions of Penn State by a score of 3-0 to advance to the NCAA Championship game.
The first quarter of this NCAA Semifinal was a slugfest. North Carolina brought the ball into the corner numerous times in an effort to draw early penalty corners. The Tar Heels were met by double teams and extreme defensive pressure from the Nittany Lions. Penn State forced UNC turnovers on the offensive end all throughout the first quarter, leaving no room for decent scoring chances for the Tar Heels. The first quarter ended with both teams knotted at zero.
The second quarter began with a penalty corner drawn by the Nittany Lions. The corner was taken by senior midfielder Mackenzie Allessie, who leads Penn State with 18 assists this season along with 12 goals. The UNC defense came out of the huddle looking sharp, and eliminated any scoring chance for Penn State off the corner.
The start of this quarter signaled that the Tar Heels had found their rhythm. They demonstrated pressure on both the offensive and defensive sides of the field. Senior forward Erin Matson drove down the field and got to a rolling ball before two Nittany Lion defenders in order to draw a penalty corner. First-year forward/midfielder Ashley Sessa took the corner, and Matson’s shot went wide to the right side of the cage.
Less than three minutes later, junior back Ciana Riccardo passed a bullet to Matson in front of the net. Matson made a nifty move to get the ball around the Penn State goalie and put the ball in the cage to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead going into halftime.
The third quarter was a similar story with lots of back and forth play. After failing to capitalize on two shots and a penalty corner early in the third quarter, the Nittany Lion remained scoreless. On the other end of the field, Matson took advantage of a rebound after a missed goal by Sessa and turned on the left side of the net and drilled the ball into the back of the cage. The Tar Heels went up 2-0 with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. After another failed penalty corner by Penn State, the quarter ended 2-0 favoring North Carolina.
Three minutes into the fourth quarter was all it took for the Tar Heels to find the back of the cage again. Matson found senior midfielder Paityn Wirth in front of the cage, and Wirth snuck the ball past the goalie to give UNC a three goal lead. The rest of the quarter played out in the Tar Heels’ favor and the game ended with a score of 3-0 and a bid to the National Championship.
Who stood out?
Erin Matson had an outstanding penultimate college game, adding two goals and one assist to her tally as a Tar Heel. Her assist tied the UNC record for most career assists at 63. This record had once been held by US-National Team player Katelyn Falgowski
The Tar Heel defense also had an exceptional outing, as they shut out the Nittany Lions. This was huge, especially as Penn State found ways to get four penalty corners throughout the game.
When was it decided?
The first quarter started off extremely slow for both teams, with no goals off of four shots for North Carolina. The Tar Heels defense was locked in starting in the second quarter, and only allowed one shot on goal throughout the entire game. After the first goal of the game by Matson, the Tar Heels continued their pressure and gave the Nittany Lions no chance to get back into this game.
Why does it matter?
This win propelled North Carolina to the National Championship game on Sunday afternoon. This is the Tar Heels’ record 76th NCAA tournament win in their record 26th appearance in the NCAA Semifinals. Matson continued to prove herself as a star by earning herself yet another record-breaking game.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will advance to the NCAA Championship game on Sunday afternoon in Storrs, Connecticut. They will play the winner of the second semifinal between Northwestern and Maryland.
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