A North Carolina field hockey season during which almost everything felt different ended Sunday in a familiar way, with the Tar Heels celebrating a championship. Second-seeded Carolina, playing as the underdog on its home turf at Karen Shelton Stadium, beat top-seeded Louisville 4-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game Sunday afternoon. It’s Carolina’s fourth league crown in a row and 23rd in program history.
Playing from the visiting bench as the lower-seeded team, the Tar Heels were looking to avenge their only loss of the season – the Cardinals won 3-1 on Oct. 2 in Louisville to end Carolina’s record-breaking winning streak at 47 – as they played for another trophy. UL again had the advantage out of the gate, leading 2-0 early in the second quarter. This time the Tar Heels stormed back for four consecutive goals to set off the season-ending celebration.
(As the ACC is the only conference competing in field hockey this fall, 2020 was a short, conference-only season and UNC-Chapel Hill finished it 10-1. The NCAA Tournament is set to take place in the spring.)
“Congratulations to Louisville for such a fantastic season,” coach Karen Shelton said. “They play with such composure and poise and that makes them a very difficult team to play against. They dominated in the first half and we gave up a couple of goals but we didn’t crack. It was a tale of two halves – they had the better of the first and I think we had the better of the second.
I’m thrilled that our kids were able to find a way to win.
“Tournament play is not always pretty but you’ve got to find a way to win and we did that today. There were a lot of unbelievable personal performances but really it was a team effort.”
The Cardinals (8-2) jumped on top in the eighth minute as sophomore Katie Schneider directed in a pass from freshman Charlie van Oirschot to make it 1-0. UL took its biggest lead of the game in the 19th minute, when Schneider scored again, deflecting in a pass from Alli Bitting on a penalty corner to made it 2-0 Louisville.
Carolina answered just under four minutes later, on the team’s first penalty corner of the day. Junior Erin Matson’s shot, assisted by junior Abby Pitcairn on the insert and sophomore Romea Riccardo on the stick stop, went off a defender’s stick and into the cage, cutting the Tar Heel deficit to one.
UL carried the 2-1 lead to the middle of the third quarter. In the 38th minute, Riccardo carried the ball to the right baseline then sent a pass to the front of the cage, where senior Bryn Boylan blasted a shot between the legs of the Cardinal goalkeeper, Hollyn Barr, to tie the game.
Carolina grabbed the lead for good just before the end of the third quarter when junior Hannah Griggs sent a pass from the left baseline to the front of the cage and sophomore Madison Orobono deflected it in as she fell to the turf to give Carolina a 3-2 advantage.
Louisville pulled Barr late in the game in favor of another field player and Carolina’s final goal came with 1:01 to play and no keeper in the cage. On a penalty corner – just the third of the game for Carolina – UL’s Julie Kouijzer made a defensive save on the first Tar Heel shot, but Matson grabbed the rebound and sent it back in for the 4-2 final margin. Kouijzer, a sophomore, finished the day with two defensive saves for the Cardinals.
Louisville led 16-10 in shots to outshoot the Tar Heels for the second time this season. The Cardinals also led in corners, 8-3, again for the second time. Carolina’s total was the second-lowest of the season, with the only lower total its two in the loss at UL.
Matson was named to the ACC All-Tournament Team for the third year in a row and was honored as the tournament MVP. Boylan, senior goalkeeper Amanda Hendry and sophomore Paityn Wirth joined her on the All-Tournament team.