With a national championship on the line, Ryleigh Heck spun her hockey stick in her hands, placed the tip on the turf and waited for the whistle.
Then, the sophomore forward was off. Dribbling inside the circle and putting her back to Northwestern goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz — regarded as one of the top goalies in the nation — Heck spun around and swept the shot around Skubisz and toward the cage. The ball pounded against the goal’s backboard.
What the Heck.
“My mind went blank,” she said. “I literally don’t even remember spinning or scoring. I just remember being with my teammates, cheering.”
In a nail-biting penalty shootout, No. 1 UNC took down No. 2 Northwestern in the NCAA Championship, 2-1.With Heck’s goal sealing the victory, North Carolina defended its championship crown and earned its 11th title in program history. Given that Heck led the Tar Heels this season in points, it was only fitting the game was ultimately in her hands.
“Ryleigh likes to make it exciting,” head coach Erin Matson said. “She’s so creative. She’s hard to defend because you can watch everything she does, then go out there and maybe win one v. one, but she’ll learn throughout the process. She’s going to do something you don’t expect. She gets the same outcome doing it 50, 100 different ways.”
The final stroke was a poetic ending for Heck. It was also a moment of redemption.
Throughout regulation and both overtime periods, the Tar Heels outshot the Wildcats 14-8, but struggled to find the back of the cage after first-year forward Charly Bruder rocketed in a shot off a penalty corner in the 33rd minute.
Matson said her team's shots were slightly off-target and Skubisz kept coming up with big saves. The first-year head coach called Skubisz “one of the best goalkeepers in the country.”