CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Blue Devils’ first goal never came. But when the buzzer sounded, the Tar Heels’ 26th ACC title did.
No. 2 UNC held No. 3 Duke to just one first-half shot and seven shots in the game — tied for the second-lowest mark of the season for Duke. The Tar Heels took home their seventh consecutive ACC Championship on Friday night with a 2-0 win, largely thanks to their defensive stronghold.
Then, UNC's offense started to gain some confidence in the second. Still, it couldn’t put points on the board. But it didn’t matter, because Duke didn’t score. The defense gave the offense time to breathe.
"Our defense is, I think, one of the best in the nation, and without them, we wouldn’t be getting goals," sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck said. "So it all just came down to doing it together and doing it as a unit."
With the proper amount of airspace, talent and practice, you can make a shot fly, and that’s just what Heck did. On a penalty corner in the third quarter, she rebounded her shot, flipped it up high into the air and watched as it dropped in the net.
North Carolina got on the board, and soon, the Blue Devils came back swinging. Duke drew three consecutive penalty corners shortly after Heck’s goal.
Duke inserted the first corner, took a shot at the goal and was denied by graduate goalie Maddie Kahn. The Blue Devils drew another corner, with the ball crashing right into Kahn’s pads. Stopped again.
"We talked about our line goals," Kahn said. "My line goal that I made for myself was executing on defensive penalty corners, picking a skill in executing. So for me, that was a really big focus point."
On the third penalty corner, UNC sixth-year back Romea Riccardo moved expeditiously and immediately got her stick on the ball to stifle the shot.