In the 29th minute of Friday’s 6-1 routing of William & Mary, the North Carolina field hockey team tried something a little different on its penalty corner opportunity.
Senior forward Paityn Wirth inserted the ball to the top of the circle to senior back Romea Riccardo, and sophomore midfielder Sietske Brüning drew back her stick as if preparing for an immediate shot on goal.
But instead, Riccardo snuck the ball behind Brüning for junior midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars to collect and send toward senior midfielder Katie Dixon in the middle of the circle, who guided the hard-hit ball into the right corner of the cage, extending the lead to 2-0.
In the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend, No. 1 UNC showcased new options in its penalty corner offense. The Tar Heels found the back of the cage on three corner attempts in Friday’s match against the Tribe. Then, three out of four North Carolina goals came off a corner in Sunday’s 4-2 win over No. 9 Harvard to advance to the Final Four.
Before Friday’s game, UNC was 21-122 in corner opportunities this season. But for the first time this year, the Tar Heels scored more than two goals on corners, and did so in back-to-back matchups.
A typical North Carolina penalty corner usually follows this form: After the insert, the ball is stopped for first-year forward Charly Bruder to launch a powerful, one-hit stroke towards the cage. However, going into the tournament, Dixon said it is crucial for the team to work on more attacking options off the corner.
“Honestly, we’ve stuck with Charly’s hit a lot, and that’s been working a lot,” Dixon said. “We’re just trying to change up the options so that it’s not easy for teams to scout us.”
With more ball movement and different Tar Heels taking shots on corners this weekend, numerous UNC players recorded goals. In the second half of Friday’s match, Wirth scored twice off a corner by hugging the far left post right after her insert to tap in deflected shots.
Then, on Sunday, when North Carolina needed a goal after Harvard trimmed the deficit to 3-2, junior midfielder Lisa Slinkert stepped up with her own direct shot, sealing the victory.