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Heck and Bruder lead UNC field hockey to seventh consecutive ACC Championship

11032023_richards_SPORTS_FHOCKEY-vs-duke-1.jpg
UNC sophomore midfielder/forward Ryleigh Heck (12) drives the ball down the field in the Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 ACC Championship game against Duke at the University of Virginia. UNC beat Duke 2-0.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In Friday’s ACC Championship, Ryleigh Heck earned a top slot on SportsCenter's Top 10.

After her initial shot was blocked by Duke midfielder Paige Bitting, the UNC sophomore forward grabbed her rebound, flicked the ball up, dribbled it in the air off her stick and then bounced it over the head of ACC Goalkeeper of the Year Piper Hampsch to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 advantage early in the third period. 

"In my head, I’m like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll just try it right now,'" Heck said. "'Why not? You probably won’t even see it coming because you don’t really see that a lot in a lot of games.'"

And, for about six minutes, Heck claimed her spot as North Carolina’s leading scorer over the season, off of one of her favorite moves, "air dribbling" — a skill she started practicing in the fourth grade tucked between the walls of her childhood bedroom. 

But when first-year forward and ACC Freshman of the Year Charly Bruder found the back of the cage in the 39th minute off a pass from Heck, the title of the leading goal scorer was split once again between Heck and Bruder, both with 11 goals a piece. 

According to head coach Erin Matson, Bruder and Heck are a "unit" inside the circle this year. The pair’s cohesiveness carried No. 2 UNC to a 2-0 victory over No. 3 Duke in the ACC title match to clinch the program’s seventh consecutive championship crown. 

With the absence of Matson on the field in a North Carolina uniform, the Tar Heels needed someone to step up on offense this year to fill the gap left by the ACC’s all-time scoring leader. Now, UNC has solidified not one, but two underclassmen as the new leaders of the offense. Currently, Heck and Bruder are tied for fourth in the ACC for goals.

"They’re both just desperate to score,” Matson said. “They love it. They’ll never be sick of it." 

After Heck’s goal ignited the UNC offense, the duo made sure to work together to put away the match for good later in the third period.

At the top of the circle, Heck strategically passed the ball through traffic to Bruder, who slung a shot over her shoulder into the left corner of the cage. 

"We knew we had to put one away just to kind of solidify the win," the first-year said. "Ryleigh passing a perfect ball, I knew I had to execute it."

Not only are the two complementary offensive machines on the field, but Bruder also calls Heck one of her best friends. Heck is the person who is always willing to go out on the field to get in reps with her early in the morning. They rarely compete against each other in practice, preferring to work together. She’s the teammate the rookie turns to for advice. And, over the summer, Heck and Bruder vacationed at the beach together.

Bruder said their friendship off the field has only served to deepen their connection on it. Matson sees it, too.

“They’ve grown as a unit — as a duo — all season, just reading each other’s tendencies, what they like to do and what they need from each other in terms of communication, leadership and everything off the field and on the field,” Matson said. 

Long after the buzzer sounded, the Tar Heels ran from their celebration in the corner of the stadium to collect their trophies and tournament memorabilia at midfield. An MVP trophy awaited Heck, while an All-Tournament team honor awaited Bruder.  

But afterwards, the duo fell back from the rest of the crowd, shared a glance and wrapped an arm around each other. 

A promising future awaits them, but for now, they’ll enjoy this moment. Together. 

@carolinewills03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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