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The Daily Tar Heel

No. 2 UNC field hockey captures ACC Championship with 2-0 win over No. 3 Duke

UNC junior back Kelly Smith (6) hits the ball in the Friday, Nov. 3, 2023 ACC Championship game against Duke at the University of Virginia.UNC won 2-0.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — With a 2-0 win over No. 3 Duke (16-4, 5-1) Friday night, the No. 2 North Carolina field hockey team (14-3, 5-1 ACC) captured its seventh consecutive ACC Championship and 26th overall in program history. The Tar Heels’ defense came up with three consecutive game-defining stops on penalty corners in the third quarter that typified the Tar Heels’ lock-tight defense on the night. 

Those stops allowed UNC to create separation, and ultimately go on to capture the ACC crown.

Throughout the first quarter, both teams struggled to find themselves offensively. Duke’s defense was suffocating, often leaving the Tar Heels scrambling as they attempted to move upfield. 

“(Duke) came out of the gate strong,” graduate back Romea Riccardo said. “I know the first half is always frantic and it's always a back and forth kind of game.”

The only shot attempted in the first quarter came with 54 seconds left in the period off a Duke penalty corner. Blue Devils sophomore Alaina McVeigh missed to the left of the goal in what was the only glimmer of offense during a defensively dynamic first quarter.  

The Tar Heels drew a penalty corner midway through the second. Senior forward Paityn Wirth inserted the corner leading to UNC’s first shot of the game. Sophomore midfielder Sietske Brüning’s shot looked pure, but just before it skipped into the net, Duke goalie Piper Hamsch came in with a diving save.

When its offense struggled, North Carolina’s defense held strong. For every time the Tar Heels faltered, their defense picked them up. 

“Obviously, I want to keep it as even as possible for as long as possible,” goalie Maddie Kahn said. “But I mean, it really just comes down to doing my job. If there's a save and I can make it, I'm going to make it.” 

The score was knotted at zero at halftime.

It didn’t take long for that to change.

On UNC’s third penalty corner, sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck had her shot blocked, but she didn’t give up on the play. Heck collected her own rebound and popped the ball in the air. The high-arcing shot seemed to stop midair — but then it dropped into the cage. The Tar Heels were on the board.

“The Duke girl got a good touch on it, but Ryleigh’s Ryleigh,” UNC head coach Erin Matson said. “She's creative and she knows how to find the back of the net. So she did just that.”

Duke drew three consecutive corners, but UNC stopped them every time. Goalie Maddie Kahn came up with a big stop in front of the cage on the second corner. The Tar Heels’ defense continued to fend off the Blue Devils, and in the third quarter, UNC’s offense entered the picture in a big way.

First-year forward Charly Bruder delivered UNC’s second goal of the quarter off an assist from Heck to build a 2-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

UNC looked like a completely different team in the second half. The offense ended the game with 12 shot attempts after shooting just three times in the first half. 

“These guys have been here before,” Matson said. “They know what it takes, but high stakes, high pressure. It took some time for them to get into it, and then the next three quarters, it was purely Carolina.”

Duke drew a corner with 3:39 to play, and once the Blue Devils were stalled once again, Duke pulled its goalie so the team would have a numbers advantage on offense. It was now or never for the Duke offense.

The Tar Heels’ defense made its final stand in the fleeting moments of the game. They held their rivals scoreless and captured the 2023 ACC Championship.

UNC will next take the field for the NCAA Tournament where the Tar Heels will look to defend their 2022 National Championship. UNC looks to be a host site for the tournament, which starts next Friday, Nov. 10.


@dthsports |

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