STORRS, Conn.— The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team (21-0) defeated the Northwestern Wildcats (20-5) to clinch the national championship with a final score of 2-1 on Sunday.
The first quarter of the title game was very similar to the Tar Heels’ semifinal game against Penn State. North Carolina had substantial offensive pressure and had four shots on goal compared to Northwestern’s zero but the Tar Heels could not convert. After two unsuccessful penalty corners and one penalty stroke, the buzzer sounded and the first quarter came to a close with zeros for both teams on the scoreboard.
The second quarter started on a similar note with North Carolina pushing offensively and creating two penalty corner opportunities in the first two minutes. The first ended unsuccessfully, with a shot by first-year midfielder and back Sietske Brüning being saved by Northwestern goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz. The second, however, ended with the first goal of the game, as Brüning found first-year midfielder and forward Ryleigh Heck at the penalty stroke marker with her stick down. Brüning sent it in and the deflection off Heck’s stick gave the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.
The remainder of the second period was stagnant for both teams, and North Carolina went into the locker room up one.
The third quarter was slow in the early minutes, but UNC had consistent offensive possession. Matson drew a penalty corner, but Heck and Sessa could not capitalize on their chances. The third quarter was relatively light with action with only three Tar Heel shots. North Carolina maintained its one-goal lead throughout the third quarter and held Northwestern scoreless.
The fourth quarter began with a burst of Wildcat momentum. Northwestern fifth-year forward Bente Baekers had a gaping net, but the pass missed her stick. The Wildcats buzzed early, getting their first shot of the game four minutes into the final quarter. Baekers hammered a shot towards the cage but it went wide left. Northwestern earned a late penalty corner with two minutes to go, and a massive shot from Baekers knotted the game at one.
39 seconds later, Wirth drove down the field and found Matson who punched it in for North Carolina and secured a 2-1 victory.
Who stood out?
The North Carolina defense had an exceptional last outing, allowing only one shot on goal the entire game. This is the second time the Tar Heels have held an NCAA Tournament opponent to zero shots in the first half, as Saint Joseph’s did not get a shot off until the third period in UNC’s quarterfinal game.
Heck had a huge last game as a first-year, picking up a goal in the second quarter off a penalty corner. Brüning had the assist to set up the deflection. Matson scored the game-winning goal in her final game as a Tar Heel off a last minute assist from Wirth.
When was it decided?
The Tar Heels came out swinging and held offensive pressure throughout the four quarters. Despite the game seeming over, Northwestern crawled back in with two minutes remaining. With overtime on the horizon, the Tar Heels put it away with 1:19 left off the goal from Matson. The Tar Heels seemed to have it in the bag early, but the late push from the Wildcats forced the extra effort from North Carolina until the buzzer sounded.
Why does it matter?
This is the Tar Heels’ first undefeated season since 2019, and their fifth undefeated season as a program. This game brings seniors Matson and Sholder’s college career to a close. This win also gives North Carolina its tenth national title, more than any other Division I program in collegiate field hockey history.
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