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The Daily Tar Heel

Behind strong defensive stand, UNC field hockey takes down Virginia in Final Four

The UNC field hockey team celebrates after the NCAA Field Hockey Semifinal on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, at Karen Shelton Stadium. UNC beat Virginia 2-0 and will advance to the Final.

Almost three minutes into the NCAA tournament semifinals, Virginia drew the first penalty corner of the game.

When UVA back Jans Croon launched the ball toward the goal, UNC graduate goalkeeper Maddie Kahn took the brunt of the shot with her body and trapped the ball with her legs.


A few seconds later, UVA recorded another penalty corner and, once again, Kahn used her full body to make the save.

Despite Virginia's opportunity to set the tone early by converting its first two penalty corners, the North Carolina backline held steady. Then, in the seventh minute, UNC sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck scored, and the No. 1 Tar Heels never looked back — recording a 2-0 victory over No. 5 Virginia on Friday to advance to their second consecutive NCAA championship game.

“[It was] definitely really important to set the tone for the game and show UVA, ‘Hey, you’re not just gonna come down here, get a corner and score,’” Kahn said. “It put them on the back foot.”

Containing UVA on key penalty corner opportunities helped UNC post its fifth shutout this season.

UNC head coach Erin Matson said that the team takes pride in its defensive penalty unit, and the Tar Heels displayed that on Friday — becoming a "brick wall" — thanks to their preparation.

Four of Virginia’s six goals during its NCAA tournament run came off penalty corners, so UNC senior back Romea Riccardo said the Tar Heels focused all week on getting stops off the corner. While UVA managed to outshoot North Carolina 3-1 in the first 15 minutes of play, Matson said the two stops early in the game were crucial in setting the UNC's momentum. 

“[I was] just thinking about, ‘Hey, I have to do my role, the other four girls in the cage with me will do their role and we’ll do our best,'" Kahn said. "I can’t ask for anything more.” 

With the Tar Heels up 2-0 in the final quarter of play, the Cavaliers grabbed one final penalty opportunity in the 49th minute. 

But this time, rather than a stop from Kahn, it was Riccardo who stepped up for UNC's defense.

Sprinting from the goal line to the top of the circle, she dove toward Croon with her stick outstretched, blocking the shot before it could be fully released into the air. The ball ricocheted out of bounds and the Cavaliers didn’t break into the circle for the rest of the game. 

“It's actually something that I thrive off of,” Riccardo said. “I kinda wanna get hit. I don't want the ball to go through me. So honestly, if I can get a touch, I'm diving for it. I'm putting my body on the line, my stick on the line, everything that I can so it does not go past me.”

While Riccardo said the team is excited to advance in the tournament, their celebration will only last about five minutes. Then, it’s back to work. There’s one more team to prepare for — the one-loss, No. 2 Northwestern Wildcats.

“We’re not done yet,” Riccardo said. “Yes, we’re going to the national championship, but we haven’t done shit yet.”


@dthsports |

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