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No. 1 UNC field hockey defeats No. 2 Northwestern in penalty shootouts to win national title

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UNC sophomore forward Riley Heck (12) looks for a pass during the NCAA field hockey championship game against Northwestern at the Karen Shelton Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023.

The No. 1 North Carolina field hockey team defeated No. 2 Northwestern 2-1 in penalty shootouts to win its fifth national title in six years and the 11th in program history. The win came on UNC's home turf at Karen Shelton Stadium to deliver head coach Erin Matson  the first national championship of her coaching career — in her first year at the helm and the age of 23.

“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Matson said. “I don’t know what more you would want in a national championship matchup than tied at the end of regulation, two overtimes, sudden death shootouts. It was just a phenomenal atmosphere, game, everything.”

Sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck scored the game-winning goal for the Tar Heels in the shootout period and graduate goalkeeper and MVP Maddie Kahn came up clutch, with her stops allowing UNC to come back from an early deficit in  shootouts.

After a 1-1 tie following four quarters of play, both teams were scoreless through two sudden-victory overtime periods, advancing the game to penalty shootouts.

The Wildcats and Tar Heels knocked in two goals a piece in the first round of shootouts. Goals coming from Heck and senior back Katie Dixon helped advance North Carolina to a sudden-death portion of shootouts. The tie, aided by saves credited to Kahn, forced the teams to compete in a second shootout period.

Northwestern’s first shot attempt in the second frame came from Wildcat graduate midfielder Peyton Halsey. Halsey’s shot was blocked by Khan, opening up the opportunity for the Tar Heels to seal the game with a goal. 

“I had a good feeling about it after I made that save and knew it was sudden death,” Kahn said. “I was happy I was able to go first and put it on Ryleigh’s shoulder, it was her turn to end the game.”

Matson chose a frequent goalscorer, Heck, to potentially clinch the championship. Looking for redemption from an earlier missed penalty stroke, Heck got just that. She executed her signature spin move to give UNC its second consecutive national title in striking fashion.

“The one thing that Erin said to me was ‘go win a national championship,’” Heck said. “Right then and there, my mind just went blank and I literally don’t even remember spinning or scoring, I just remember being with my teammates just cheering and one of the greatest feelings ever.”

Top-ranked UNC advanced to Sunday's final with a 2-0 win over No. 5 Virginia on Friday. No. 2 Northwestern beat the No. 3 Blue Devils, 2-1, in the second semifinal.

@j_kidd03

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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