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.