The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team (13-3, 5-1 ACC) defeated the No. 4 Virginia Cavaliers (12-6, 3-3 ACC), 3-2, in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament, Wednesday afternoon in Charlottesville.
For the second year in a row, UNC claimed the top seed in the conference tournament on the hunt for the program’s seventh consecutive ACC title. Executing a dominant offensive performance in the first quarter to gain an early lead, North Carolina’s defense did not allow a late-game comeback, redeeming itself from its loss to the Cavaliers in the regular season.
“The last time we were here, we learned a hard lesson, but a very necessary one,” head coach Erin Matson said. “I think today it was a perfect opportunity for them to show what they’ve been working on.”
The Tar Heels wasted no time getting on the board first. Two minutes into the match, junior midfielder Jasmina Smolenaars fought a Cavalier defender for the ball at the top of the Virginia circle. Smolenaars then launched a pass to sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck, who knocked a behind-the-back shot into the cage, putting the Tar Heels up 1-0.
In the tenth minute of play, UNC drew its first penalty corner of the match. After graduate midfielder Pleun Lammers inserted from the backline, she got into position to tap in the rebound of first-year forward Charly Bruder’s shot, to give North Carolina a two goal lead. Matching the offensive dominance with a lock-down defensive performance, the UNC backline did not allow a single shot in the first quarter.
Controlling possession for most of the second quarter, the Cavaliers applied significant pressure to the North Carolina defense and worked to decrease the early deficit.
Virginia drew four consecutive penalty corners in the 19th minute before finding the back of the cage. Junior back Kelly Smith completed the first save followed by two back-to-back shot blocks by the UNC defense on the second and third attempt.
“Kelly Smith had a great game, if not [her] best game all season,” Matson said. “She just comes in clutch in those moments where we need to come up with a good tackle and break down their play. The team leaned on her. She put the team on her back.”
However, on the fourth try, the shot by Virginia midfielder Daniela Mendez-Trendler bounced off the foot of a Tar Heel defender over graduate goalkeeper Maddie Kahn, putting the Cavaliers on the board, 2-1.