Two freshmen scored their first career goals and the nation’s leading scorer added one more as top-seeded North Carolina shut out fourth-seeded Iowa 3-0 at Karen Shelton Stadium to earn a spot in the NCAA field hockey championship game on Sunday.
The Tar Heels, two-time defending champions, will play for the ninth title in program history Sunday at 7 p.m. on their home turf. They’ll face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal game between Louisville and Michigan.
After a scoreless first quarter, Carolina (18-1) went up for good in the 23rd minute while at a player advantage because of an Iowa green card. Sophomore Romea Riccardo sent a long ball to the right corner, where freshman Mia Leonhardt hustled to receive it then delivered a pass from the right corner into the circle. Classmate Katie Dixon sent a backhand shot past Iowa keeper Grace McGuire and into the left side of the cage for a 1-0 Tar Heel lead. It was Dixon’s first goal as a Tar Heel and Leonhardt’s first assist.
Shortly after that score, the game went into its first of two lengthy weather delays because of lightning in the area. The teams spent 40 minutes in their locker rooms before returning to the turf to play out the rest of the second quarter. Just as the halftime clock sounded, the game went into another weather delay – this one including heavy rain and even hail – and the “halftime” break stretched to nearly an hour instead of the typical 10 minutes.
Back on the field for the third quarter, the Tar Heels drew two penalty corners and scored on both. In the 40th minute, junior Erin Matson’s initial shot was saved but Leonhardt grabbed the rebound and popped a shot over diving keeper and into the cage for a 2-0 Carolina lead on her first career goal.
Four minutes later the Tar Heels drew another penalty corner, their fourth of four on the day, Matson, who leads the nation in scoring, blasted a shot to notch her 27th goal of the season, with Paityn Wirth and Romea Riccardo on the assists. The goal was Matson’s 15th in 10 NCAA Tournament games and she now ranks second in tournament history for career goals. (The all-time NCAA Tournament leader, ODU’s Marina DiGiacomo, scored 21 goals in 12 games.)
The teams finished tied in shots with nine each, but Tar Heel senior Amanda Hendry made seven saves – including five in the final period – to preserve the shutout. In two NCAA Tournament games, Carolina has yet to allow a goal.
Iowa (12-6) drew six penalty corners, including five in the fourth quarter, and Carolina had four.
The Tar Heels are making their 12th straight Final Four appearance, the 25th in program history. Friday’s game was the program’s 100th in NCAA Tournament play, more than any other school. Sunday’s championship game will be Carolina’s 20th. The Tar Heels are 8-11 in their previous 19 appearances and won the 2018 and 2019 titles.