As field hockey fans around the country look ahead to the national championship game this Sunday in Chapel Hill at 1:30 p.m., they will notice two familiar names in the title game: No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Northwestern.
Their recent postseason clashes have been notable. North Carolina defeated Northwestern in last year’s national championship game, and the Wildcats knocked out the Tar Heels in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
However, a few things are different this time around.
North Carolina’s key weapon from last season is now on the sidelines rather than the field. In her inaugural season as head coach, Erin Matson has led the Tar Heels to a 17-3 record and has proven that her field hockey expertise can expand beyond the bounds of the playing area.
For Northwestern, forward Bente Baekers transferred to California. Baekers scored the lone Northwestern goal in last year's national title game and was a critical component of the Wildcat offense last season.
Despite these significant roster changes, both the Wildcats and the Tar Heels have found success in other ways this season. Northwestern has only one loss on the season, which came in their first game of the year against then-No. 9 Louisville. Since that game in August, the Wildcats have ripped off a 21-game win streak. Similarly, North Carolina is on a six-game win streak since its loss at Virginia in October.
Here are two keys to the Tar Heels' success as they look to secure the program's eleventh national championship.
Stop a multifaceted Northwestern offense
The Wildcats have extensive depth on their roster. Three players have scored more than 10 goals this season and three players have recorded more than 10 assists. On top of this, Northwestern shares the ball well and generates a movement-based offense.