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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC field hockey advances to second consecutive Final Four with 4-2 win over Harvard

UNC junior midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars (22) hits the ball in Karen Shelton Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 12 2023 during the second round of the NCAA Field Hockey Championship against Harvard.

The No. 1 UNC field hockey team (16-3, 5-1 ACC) defeated No. 9 Harvard (16-4, 7-0 Ivy), 4-2, to advance to the NCAA Field Hockey Final Four for the second consecutive season. 

North Carolina’s second round matchup started with a stark difference from its previous game. The Crimson controlled possession for the first four minutes of the first quarter, but once UNC got the ball on the offensive side of the field, it did what it does best — getting two back-to-back penalty corners.

Despite the first one being unsuccessful, first-year forward Charly Bruder rocketed the ball from the top of the crease to send it into the back of the net off of the goalkeeper's stick. The Crimson knotted the score at one off of a penalty corner of their own five minutes later, as Kitty Chapple lifted the ball from the top of the circle to send it straight past UNC graduate goalkeeper Maddie Kahn. While the first quarter ended with a total of nine penalty corners, only one was successful for each team and the period ended with both teams tied at one.

The Tar Heels began the second quarter with a bang, as they ran the same exact penalty corner play that resulted in their first goal of the game. And, as proven, it worked. Bruder earned her second goal of the game as she sent the ball straight towards the goal and it deflected off of the goalkeeper's glove and into the net. 

“Her shot’s a rocket,” head coach Erin Matson said. “All spring and all fall we’ve been working on just harnessing it and to just get it on target because it’s going to go in nine times out of ten.”

Despite Harvard having the advantage in shots and penalty corners in the second frame, UNC was the only team to find the cage and it went into halftime with a 2-1 lead.

The beginning of the second half was a deadlock of defensive pressure. Neither team was able to find scoring opportunities for the first six minutes of the half. That only lasted for so long, as senior forward Paityn Wirth found a wide open sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck in front of the goal. Wirth sent it to Heck from the top left side of the circle, and Heck tapped it in to give the Tar Heels a 3-1 advantage. North Carolina controlled possession for the remainder of the quarter and outshot Harvard 6-1 to go into the final frame with a two-goal lead.

Despite UNC controlling the momentum, Harvard was not going away. The Crimson got the ball inside the crease only two minutes into the period, forced Khan out of the goal, and gave Lucy Leel an easy opportunity to send the ball into the cage. This goal brought the Tar Heels’ lead to one with just under 13 minutes to play. However, the Tar Heels retaliated. In what was their only penalty corner of the quarter, Wirth sent it into senior midfielder Katie Dixon. Dixon set it up for junior midfielder Lisa Slinkert, who sent the ball straight off the goalkeeper's leg pad and into the net.

“I think we needed it,” Slinkert said. “We needed that one more goal to feel secure so it was great.”

This gave North Carolina a comfortable two goal margin. The Tar Heels did not let up and successfully earned a 4-2 lead.

This victory sends UNC back to the Final Four for yet another shot at an NCAA Championship. In addition, UNC will be the first team since 2010 to play in a Final Four on its home turf.

“It’s so exciting,” Bruder said. “I’m anticipating a lot of energy and another hard game, we don’t know who we’re going to play but just anticipating a lot of fire and a lot of fight.”

Standout performances from Bruder and Wirth aided the Tar Heels in their victory, as Bruder accounted for two goals and Wirth tallied four assists. Dixon also racked up three assists. Their roles will be crucial as the competition will get even more fierce as they progress through the tournament.

North Carolina will stay at Karen Shelton Stadium to play Virginia at either noon or 3 p.m. on Friday.


@dthsports |

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