North Carolina capped a perfect season with the program’s 10th trophy, beating Northwestern 2-1 Sunday afternoon to claim the 2022 NCAA Field Hockey Championship.
After the No. 3 Wildcats scored with just under two minutes in regulation to tie the game at 1-1, senior Erin Matson got the game-winner with 1:19 on the clock to put her team ahead for good. Matson was named the tournament’s most outstanding player and was joined on the all-tournament team by senior Paityn Wirth, who assisted on the game-winner; first-year Ryleigh Heck, who scored the day’s first goal; and senior Meredith Sholder, who anchored the midfield in a stellar team defensive effort.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for our team, and I want to congratulate Northwestern,” coach Karen Shelton said. “They’re not called the Cardiac ‘Cats for nothing – they made it real interesting at the end, but throughout the entire game, they were such a threat.
“I’m proud of our group for defending as well as we did as a complete unit — I thought we defended the entire game, every player. We had a plan and while we turned the ball over a little bit and they had opportunities, I thought we did what we wanted to do.”
The title, Carolina’s fourth in the past five years, gives the Tar Heels a total of 10, more than any other Division I field hockey program. Carolina finished 21-0 for the fifth undefeated season in program history.
Carolina scored early in the second quarter and held onto that 1-0 lead for much of the game. The goal came on a penalty corner, one of five on the day for the Tar Heels. First-year Sietske Brüning had the initial hit and Heck deflected it in to put Carolina on the board.
Northwestern didn’t get off a shot until the fourth quarter and drew only one penalty corner on the day, but the Wildcats capitalized on that opportunity, scoring in the 59th minute of play. Bente Baekers had the goal, assisted by Kayla Blas and Alia Marshall.
The Tar Heels regained the momentum quickly, with senior Romea Riccardo’s aerial pass setting up the play. She fed it to Wirth, who carried the ball into the circle and sent it toward the cage, where Matson got her stick on it to tip it in for the lead. The score was tied for just 39 seconds before Carolina pulled away again.
“It was opportunistic – Romea threw a beautiful pass and Paityn did a nice job with it and Erin in front of the goal is always a threat,” Shelton said.
Carolina finished with 15 shots to Northwestern’s two, outshooting an opponent for the 20th time in 21 games this season.
“I’m just so proud of the entire team,” Shelton said. “Every player contributed, even the ones that didn’t step on the field today because all season long they made us better at practice and they worked hard every day. It was just an outstanding season for all of us.”