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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC field hockey beats Duke, 2-1, in comeback victory

The UNC field hockey team celebrates after the game against Duke on Friday, Oct. 27, 2023 at Karen Shelton Stadium. UNC beat Duke 2-1.

Down by one goal in the fourth quarter on Friday, the North Carolina field hockey team huddled together to recite a simple mantra – “this is not over.”

Despite outshooting the Blue Devils in the first three quarters, 8-3, Duke found the back of the cage first in the 47th minute. It was a moment that felt all too familiar. Another late-game breakdown and another loss seemed impending. This time, a defeat would have lost the Tar Heels their No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament.

“That’s been the story of the whole season,” head coach Erin Matson said. “We’re dominating. It’s just [a matter of] putting it away.”

But against the No. 2 Blue Devils, the Tar Heels rewrote the story. 

In several top-10 matchups this season, No. 4 UNC struggled to close out games. The three losses of the season came from an inability to rebound after teams caught the Tar Heels off-guard with a sudden late-game goal to tie or lead. Most recently, in a 3-2 loss on Oct. 20, North Carolina allowed the then-No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers to take control late in the game and score three back-to-back goals.

However, on Friday night, the Tar Heels refused to fall into the same trap. 

In an explosive fourth quarter, UNC secured a 2-1 victory over its in-state rival. Matson said the players were “foaming at the mouth” for scoring opportunities and unrelenting in their efforts to walk away with the victory. 

Less than a minute after Duke’s goal, junior midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars sent a long pass across the midfield into Blue Devil territory for senior forward Paityn Wirth. Breaking into the circle, Wirth got an immediate shot on goal that was kicked away by Duke goalkeeper Piper Hampsch. Luckily, first-year forward Sanne Hak quickly rebounded and tapped it into the right corner of the cage. 

“I really like to run ahead,” Hak said. “I just saw Paityn on the ball, and all I could think was, ‘Run, run, run.’”

In the practices following the UVA loss, Matson said the team had a "eureka moment" and focused on having fire in the circle, getting more shots on goal, not waiting for a perfect moment to shoot and rebounding. To counteract the issues that stunted the Tar Heels last week, senior midfielder Katie Dixon said they also honed in on maintaining their momentum throughout the entire 60 minutes of play. 

So, with Hak’s goal tying up the score, North Carolina refused to sink into complacency. Three minutes later a behind-the-back goal by Dixon gave UNC the lead, and the rest was history. 

“After that [Duke] goal went in, we were like, ‘We just need to put it right back at them,'” Dixon said. “And we did it.”

Moving forward, the head coach said the most important thing is for UNC to generate consistency by replicating the Friday's performance and matching the level of intensity in postseason play. 

The season isn’t over, yet.

“This was a game [that] wasn’t given to [the team],” Matson said. “This season, nothing is guaranteed, nothing is supposed to happen. They are earning every single part of it, and I think that is what makes tonight and games like this even more special.”


@dthsports |

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