UNC field hockey will play in its 22nd Final Four this weekend after clinching its 20th ACC Championship earlier in November.
Above: Photo from the News & Observer.
In November, UNC’s field hockey team claimed their 20th ACC Championship and its 22nd appearance in the Final Four.
The field hockey team had a tough tournament, facing many of the nation’s top ranked teams like Duke and Virginia. However, it has been a fall season full of challenges for the Heels. The team has traveled to Duke’s field hockey facilities every day for practice as Chapel Hill continues construction on new practice fields.
“It has taken a lot more time out of our days, but we have embraced this challenge and we are lucky to have a field so close to us,” said Leila Evans, a junior midfielder/forward on the field hockey team.
Morgan Goetz, a junior back, also says traveling for practice and home games has provided a challenge to the team.
“We have begun to see this traveling as an opportunity to prove our resilience through adversity,” Goetz said.
Last year in the ACC tournament, the team fell to Virginia in the championship game. This motivated the girls to work harder in their off season and reclaim the trophy this year.
“We had a really hard preseason, which gave us a great base to take on each game,” Goetz said. “Our team works together really well, and I believe that we do a very good job at working as a unit, as opposed to having a couple of superstars that the team relies on.”
Evans says the team is extremely cohesive and works together as one unit, which is the reason for their success on the field.
The Tar Heels go into the NCAA tournament ranked no. 4 with a 16-4 record. This will be Carolina’s 34th NCAA tournament appearance, the most out of all field hockey programs. It will be their 15th appearance in a row.
“We gave ourselves time to celebrate and appreciate our success, but we know we have the tournament and we are quickly turning our sights to that,” Goetz said.
“All season we work toward the tournament – it’s an exciting time of the year,” said UNC head coach Karen Shelton.
In the Tar Heels’ 2015 and 2016 seasons they finished runner-up in the NCAA tournament. This year, they’re hoping to win it all.
“Losing last year created motivation for winning the next year,” says Evans. “We use this [ACC] win as motivation going into the NCAA tournament.”
Despite success throughout the regular season, the team only has one senior — a challenge Goetz says the team struggled to work through in the beginning of the season.
Resiliency has been a theme of the Tar Heels’ play in the ACC tournament, a trait they hope to continue throughout the NCAA tournament. Both Marissa Creatore, a sophomore forward, and Malin Evert, a midfielder, sustained face injuries while playing in the semi-final game, which resulted in stitches for the players.
“Seeing Marissa and Malin show resilience through their injuries gave us a lot of strength and motivation,” Evans said.
This year’s team has arguably the best defense in the nation, in large part because of contributions from ACC Defensive Player of the Year, Ashley Hoffman. They also have the talent of Eva van’t Hoog, a midfielder who made the 2017 All-ACC field hockey team, and Evert, who made second team.
“Any team in the NCAA can win at any time, it just depends who shows up to play that day,” Goetz said. “We are very aware that we will need to work really hard, so while the win is awesome we have a bigger trophy in mind.”