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Maddie Kahn comes up big in penalty shootout to help UNC field hockey win eleventh national championship

UNC graduate goalkeeper Maddie Kahn (81) smiling with her teammates at the NCAA field hockey championship game against Northwestern at the Karen Shelton Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. UNC won their 11th national championship in the penalty shootouts.

Standing on the goal line, graduate goalkeeper Maddie Kahn could do nothing but hope.

There were three minutes left in the second overtime period of the national title game and the score was tied. Northwestern forward Olivia Bent-Cole had just received a pass at the center line and turned the engines on. As Bent-Cole raced down the field, Wildcat midfielder Lauren Wadas paced her on the opposite side of the turf. With three UNC defenders trailing, Kahn faced a 2-on-1 situation and knew the game was in her hands.

When Bent-Cole passed the ball to a wide-open Wadas, Kahn sprinted out of the cage and slid to block the ball and save the game.

“I saw I had one defender left and I was honestly just hoping that Olivia Bent-Cole was going to pass it across cage,” Kahn said. “I saw that Lauren Wadas received the ball head-down and I was just praying that she was going to shoot it and it was going to hit me and go out of the circle.”

Kahn held steadfast in UNC's 2-1 national championship win. After recording eight saves in North Carolina's previous NCAA tournament games, she tallied three saves — including two in the second overtime period — on Sunday to earn Most Outstanding Player honors. In the clutch, Kahn denied four Northwestern players during shootouts to allow the Tar Heels to hoist another championship trophy.

Despite being the go-to keeper the entire season, Kahn only put on a UNC uniform for the first time in August. She previously was a four-year starter for Lehigh, earning Patriot League Goalkeeper of the Year honors during her sophomore season. 

After winning the 2022 Patriot League Championship with the Mountain Hawks, Kahn entered the transfer portal. She soon received an e-mail from former UNC head coach Karen Shelton and was immediately excited about the prospect of joining such a competitive program.

“Seeing an email in my inbox from Coach Shelton was absolutely insane,” Kahn said. “I ran around my house and said ‘Guys look what I got, Coach Shelton sent me an email!’"

Kahn’s grit was apparent throughout the whole season. She saw the field in 20 of UNC’s matchups this year and started in 19. Through 1,147 minutes of playing time, Kahn tallied 54 saves and earned a 0.711 save percentage. 

The one game Kahn did not play in was the first of the season. In UNC’s opening matchup against Michigan, junior goalkeeper Abigail Taylor was the only protector of the cage. After that day, the role was only assigned to Kahn.

Head coach Erin Matson said she did not take this goalkeeping decision lightly: “Every season, these guys know whether they're a senior, fifth-year, or freshman, playing time is never guaranteed — it's earned."

"At the end of the day, Maddie stepped up in those big moments early on and has been able to withstand that the entire season," Matson said. "There was never a doubt in our mind that she wasn’t going to be a solid rock back there.”

After her game-saving stop against a two-man Wildcat breakout, Kahn felt confident. Her save served as a “momentum swing” for the remainder of the game and instilled faith in her teammates that they would walk away with the program’s 11th national championship.

Kahn went from a newcomer to a national champion, and was arguably the most important factor in UNC’s national title victory. And if the scene of her leaping across the field at Karen Shelton Stadium following the win was any indication, Kahn won't be forgetting this game anytime soon.

“Moments like these are why anyone comes to UNC for field hockey,” she said.


@dthsports |

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