Before claiming the national championship in Storrs, Conn. this weekend, the North Carolina field hockey team went undefeated in the regular season and in ACC Championship play, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Tar Heels won all 15 of their regular season games — eight at Karen Shelton Stadium and seven on the road — and won both games in the ACC Championship.
Here are some of the toughest hurdles they faced on their road to the title:
The ACC-Big 10 challenge saw North Carolina face off against then-No. 3 Michigan to open the regular season on Aug. 26. First-year Ashley Sessa scored a hat trick on six shots on goal in a dominant 5-1 win in Winston-Salem.
UNC carried that momentum into its next game against then-No. 5 Iowa two days later. The Hawkeyes pulled ahead early, leading 2-0 at the half. But goals from sophomore Lisa Slinkert and first-year Sietske Brüning helped the Tar Heels force overtime, where senior Erin Matson needed only four minutes to put away the game-winning goal.
North Carolina’s marquee matchups continued, with a thrilling 4-3 home opener against Princeton on Sept. 2. The two teams traded goals throughout the first half, with the Tar Heels carrying a 3-2 lead into the break. Princeton pulled back with a late goal in the final minute, but an insurance goal from Matson two minutes prior sealed UNC’s third consecutive win.
The Tar Heels saw another top-15 matchup on Sept. 23, this time facing off against Wake Forest in Chapel Hill. A masterful performance from the defense saw UNC record its fifth consecutive shutout. Meanwhile, a second-half brace from Matson helped carry the team to its eighth straight victory.
The field hockey team closed the regular season against Duke in Durham on Oct. 29. The Tar Heels’ defense held the Blue Devils to just four shots as they coasted to the ACC regular season title.
After a semifinal win against Syracuse, UNC also went on to clinch the ACC Championship title in Durham with a 3-2 win against Virginia on Nov. 4. The Tar Heels outshot the Cavaliers 18 to 5, with a brace from first-year Ryleigh Heck putting them in front at 3-1 with three minutes to go. A late-game goal from Virginia’s Laura Janssen wasn’t enough to keep Karen Shelton from lifting her 24th ACC Championship trophy — and the Tar Heels' fifth straight.
After a spotless regular season and a strong showing in the ACC Championship, North Carolina’s field hockey team set itself up well for the NCAA Tournament. Their offense put up five goals in the first and second rounds against Delaware and Saint Joseph’s, respectively. Their dominant wins helped the Tar Heels clinch their 26th Final Four appearance, where they went on to claim their 10th National Championship.
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