Field Hockey: Rapid Recap: North Carolina 2, Northwestern 1


Ella Galvin/The Daily Northwestern

Junior midfielder Maddie Zimmer controls the ball on her stick. The Pennsylvania native was the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player in 2021.

Jake Epstein, Reporter

The national title is headed back to Chapel Hill for a record 10th time.

Northwestern(20-5, 5-3 Big Ten) fell to North Carolina  (21-0,6-0 ACC) 2-1 on a chilly championship Sunday in Storrs, Connecticut.

The Tar Heels attacked early in the first quarter, earning their first and only penalty stroke less than six minutes into the contest. Forward Erin Matson stepped up to take the shot and junior goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz dove right to push the ball out of danger. Matson, the five-time ACC Offensive Player of the Year, missed from the penalty spot for the first time this season.

North Carolina dominated the first 15 minutes, as coach Karen Shelton’s squad tallied five shots – four of which were on goal. NU failed to register a single shot in the first quarter, but sound defense and Skubisz’s heroics kept the game at 0-0.

Two minutes into the second quarter, the Tar Heels earned their fourth penalty corner of the matchup. Freshman midfielder Sietske Brüning struck a shot towards goal, which freshman midfielder Ryleigh Heck deflected past Skubisz to put North Carolina ahead 1-0.

With just three seconds remaining in the first half, the Cats worked the ball into the circle and nearly earned their first penalty corner of the game. However, the call on the field was reversed after a Tar Heel referral found that senior midfielder Peyton Halsey committed a stick hack. North Carolina ran down the final seconds, and NU trailed 1-0 at halftime. 

The Cats’ offense remained dormant in the third quarter, and the Tar Heel defense completely stymied an NU side which averages 18.5 shots per game. Through 45 minutes of play, the Cats still did not record a shot.

Fifth-year forward Bente Baekers looked to have a golden opportunity to even the score with ten minutes left in the contest. The Dutch star had the entire close post open but failed to connect with the ball cleanly, and it traveled wide of the net.

Coach Tracey Fuchs pulled Skubisz with 2:37 to go in exchange for an extra attacker. This allowed NU to earn its first penalty corner of the game 30 seconds later. Baekers didn’t let a second chance go to waste, and fired home her 25th goal of the season to tie the game at 1-1.

Shortly after, North Carolina’s Paityn Wirth worked the ball into the circle, which Matson would convert with just over a minute to play to give the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead.

The Cats couldn’t respond on short notice, and the Tar Heels held on to win their 10th national championship.

Here are three takeaways from NU’s National Championship loss to North Carolina.


1. Cats entered the National Championship battle-tested

After finishing as finalists in the Big Ten Tournament, Fuchs said NU plays in “the best conference in the country. The Cats’ past 10 games were decided by a one-goal margin, and five of those contests went to overtime. 

Three of four teams in the Final Four were Big Ten members, and NU beat the other two squads, Maryland and Penn State, at least once this season.

2. Ice-cold offensive start

On par with the frigid Connecticut temperatures, NU failed to tally a first half goal in the NCAA tournament. 

The Tar Heels outshot the Cats 10-0 in the first two quarters, and tallied seven shots on goal along with four penalty corners. Fuchs’ squad, who thrived on penalty corners all season, didn’t get an opportunity to test North Carolina in the first 30 minutes. 

Without six first half saves from Skubisz, NU would’ve dug itself into a much bigger hole to climb out of.

3. Tar Heels prove too much for the Cardiac Cats

NU thrived in the second half of games all season, but North Carolina never let its opponent heat up for too long.

In a matchup of two complete teams across the board, the aggressive Tar Heel press stymied the Cats for much of the game. 

When Baekers finally turned on a moment of magic on NU’s sole penalty corner of the game with just under two minutes to play, North Carolina’s fifth-year star Matson instantly responded to put the game back in Tar Heel control.

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Twitter: @jakeepste1n

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