Field hockey earns seventh straight ACC crown

With Friday's 2-0 victory against Duke, the Tar Heels now have 26 conference titles.

Members of the Carolina field hockey team embracing and celebrating a conference championship victory.
Carolina defeated Duke for a second time within a week and now has an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. (Jeffrey A. Camarati/GoHeels)

Carolina broke open a scoreless game with a pair of third-quarter goals and then held on for a 2-0 victory over Duke Nov. 3 in the Atlantic Coast Conference Field Hockey Championship Game at Virginia’s Turf Field in Charlottesville, Va. The Tar Heels’ title is the team’s seventh in a row and the 26th in program history.

“I thought it was special celebrating on the turf and between the white lines and now being able to watch them celebrate something that is so well-deserved, it’s totally indescribable,” said first-year Carolina coach Erin Matson, who celebrated five ACC titles as a player before watching from the sidelines Friday as her team claimed her first title as a coach.

Sophomore Ryleigh Heck, who was named the tournament MVP, scored the game-winner on a penalty corner in the 33rd minute of play. After her first shot was blocked, she grabbed the rebound, balanced the ball on her stick and popped it over the Duke keeper and into the cage to give her team an advantage it wouldn’t give up.

It was the first goal allowed in the tournament by Duke, which advanced to the final with a pair of shutout wins. The Tar Heels added a second goal just over six minutes later, with Heck passing from the top of the circle through traffic to freshman Charly Bruder, who lofted a ball over the Duke keeper and in for a 2-0 Tar Heel advantage.

Bruder, who also scored in Carolina’s 3-2 semifinals win over Virginia on Wednesday, joined Heck on the All-Tournament team, as did freshman Sanne Hak and junior Jasmina Smolenaars.

Carolina (14-3) and Duke (16-4) faced off for the second Friday night in a row. Last week in Chapel Hill, Carolina won 2-1, and the teams both finished ACC play at 5-1, sharing the regular-season title.

The championship earned Carolina an automatic bid into the 2023 NCAA Tournament field, which was announced on Sunday. The Tar Heels, the defending national champions, are the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and will host this year’s final four at Karen Shelton Stadium. Carolina faces either William & Mary or Sacred Heart in the first round on Friday.