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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 1 UNC field hockey team shuts out UVA to advance to national championship

UNC players celebrate after their second goal during the NCAA Field Hockey Semifinal on Nov. 17, 2023, at Karen Shelton Stadium. UNC is up 2-0 at the half.

The No. 1 UNC field hockey team shut out No. 4 Virginia in a 2-0 match to advance to its second straight NCAA title game appearance and its fifth in the last six years.

UNC's Paityn Wirth and Ryleigh Heck both stood out in the matchup, as Wirth earned an assist and Heck tallied a goal. Sietske Brüning was also a key player for UNC, as she scored UNC's second goal and maintained a strong defensive front.

The North Carolina defense shut down penalty corner chances and only allowed Virginia two shots on goal in the entire 60 minutes. UNC’s depth on both sides of the ball will be crucial in the national title game.

On Friday, the Cavaliers dominated the first frame, controlling possession and earning the first penalty corner of the game within the first three minutes. After an unsuccessful attempt, the Cavaliers earned a second penalty corner. Both attempts ended with a save from UNC graduate goalie Maddie Khan to keep the score knotted at zero. 

North Carolina quickly got on the board in its first true offensive possession. Wirth passed the ball to Heck on the baseline who dished it past the right side of the Cavalier goalie to put the Tar Heels in front 1-0. 

“I think the goal started from the defense to the attack,” Heck said. “I think it was a team goal and I just happened to be able to finish it."

Virginia continued to control possession, but none of its three shot attempts were successful and UNC ended the first quarter with a 1-goal advantage. 

Notably, North Carolina earned zero penalty corner attempts in the first quarter after earning seven in the first quarter against Harvard in the second round of the tournament.  

That did not last long.

The Tar Heels earned a penalty corner less than three minutes into the second quarter, but a miscommunication on the stop allowed Virginia to take over possession and left UNC empty-handed. After an offensive gridlock for both teams, UNC earned its second penalty corner attempt.

This time it was successful.

Wirth entered the ball to senior back Romea Riccardo, who dished it to Brüning. Brüning rocketed the ball straight towards the goalie and it deflected off a Virginia stick and found the back of the net to put UNC up 2-0.

The rest of the quarter was a defensive onslaught, and the Tar Heels entered halftime with a two goal lead. 

The third period was a gridlock for both teams. Virginia continued to deploy defensive pressure on the Tar Heels, so much so that UNC could not even make it down the field. When they did, they came up empty. 

Another thing we’ve worked on all season is dictating the game and gauging the press,” head coach Erin Matson said. “Teams can come at us. That’s fine, let them. We will play against, we’ll outsmart them.”

The Cavaliers recorded zero shots in the third period, and the Tar Heels earned a shot on an unsuccessful penalty corner. The Tar Heels went into the final quarter with a comfortable 2-0 lead.

The beginning of the fourth quarter favored the Cavaliers. They quickly earned two penalty corners, but neither were successful, as both UVA shots were blocked and sent high above the net.

This trend stayed the same for the remainder of the final frame. Neither UNC or Virginia could convert on the offensive side of the ball and the Tar Heels earned their fifth shutout of the season.

This win sends the Tar Heels to their 22nd NCAA title game appearance. UNC will face the winner of the Northwestern and Duke matchup in the national championship at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday inside Karen Shelton Stadium.

As the UNC knows, neither of these teams are easy to beat.

“Yes, we can celebrate this, but it’s like ‘OK we celebrate for five minutes and then we go back to see who we play and we look to the next one,’” Riccardo said. “Yes, we’re going to the National Championship but we haven’t done shit yet.”

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