Tar Heels advance to NCAA field hockey championship

The Tar Heels won against Penn State 3-0 and will play for their 10th national championship on Sunday.

The field hockey team celebrates their win
Senior Paityn Wirth celebrates after scoring Carolina's third goal of the day. (Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati)

The North Carolina field hockey team is playing for another crown.

The top-ranked Tar Heels beat No. 6 Penn State 3-0 Friday afternoon with senior Erin Matson scoring twice and assisting on a third goal by Paityn Wirth to extend Carolina’s season one more game. Carolina improved to 20-0 and will take on either Northwestern or Maryland Sunday afternoon for the 2022 title. A win would bring North Carolina’s 10th championship, more than any other program.

“Congratulations to Penn State or an outstanding season – I know it’s heartbreaking for them, they had such a great year,” Carolina coach Karen Shelton said. “They really made us prepare well. I was proud of our team for executing the gameplan and working hard. I thought we defended from the front, as we like to say, and we attacked from the back. Overall a great performance and great senior leadership.”

On a sunny, cold afternoon at UConn’s Sherman Family Sports Complex, the first of the two NCAA semifinal games was scoreless through the first 21 minutes of play. With just under nine minutes to play before halftime junior Ciana Riccardo sent a ball straight down the middle and into the circle to Matson, who one-touched it past the PSU keeper for what would prove to be the gamewinner.

The Tar Heels held that 1-0 advantage through halftime and until the 41st minute, when Matson scored again. First year Ryleigh Heck sent a pass across the cage and classmate Ashley Sessa got her stick on the ball but couldn’t get it to the goal. The ball then trickled out to the left side of the circle where Matson tracked it down then turned and fired a shot that struck just inside the post for Carolina’s second score of the day.

Those two goals gave the Tar Heel senior the all-time points and goals records in NCAA Tournament play. Matson came into the game two points and one goal shy of the record held by Old Dominion’s Marina Di Giacomo.

In the 49th minute, Matson fed Wirth, who started her career at Penn State before transferring to Carolina, for the Tar Heels’ third goal of the day. Wirth received the ball then poked a shot just to the left of PSU keeper Brie Barraco and into the cage.

Carolina goalkeeper Abigail Taylor played all 60 minutes and made a save on the Nittany Lions’ only shot on goal of the day to preserve the shutout, Carolina’s ninth of the year.

The Tar Heels will play on Sunday for the program’s 10th title, which would be a record for NCAA Championships. Carolina’s current total of nine is tied with Old Dominion for the most of all time. It will be Carolina’s 21st appearance in the final game of the season.

Carolina is now 21-5 all time in NCAA semifinal games.

“All we wanted to do is earn another game and that’s what we’ve done,” Shelton said. “Now it’s up to us to rest and recover and wait to see who we’re going to play on Sunday.”