In spite of being on a hot streak and ripping off three straight wins, including a 3-2 overtime thriller against Syracuse, the Virginia field hockey team hit a wall in this weekend's matchups against North Carolina.
The Cavaliers (3-3, 2-1 ACC) were defeated by the Tar Heels (4-1, 2-1 ACC) twice on the road at Shelton Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. Heading into the games, Virginia had high hopes, being only a half-game out of first place in the ACC. However, the team had not beaten the Tar Heels since a 4-2 victory in 2016 when the Cavaliers won their first ACC Championship in field hockey, so the pressure was on Virginia.
Game 1: Virginia 1, North Carolina 5
The opening quarter was uneventful for the most part, with both defenses remaining strong. Sophomore goalkeeper Taylor Henriksen started in goal for Virginia and came into the game leading the ACC with a 0.846 save percentage. Senior goalkeeper Amanda Hendry started for the Tar Heels.
North Carolina dominated possession in the first quarter and found themselves with many more opportunities on the offensive end than the Cavaliers. Despite two penalty corners and four shots for the Tar Heels, the game remained scoreless after one quarter, in large part due to two saves by Henriksen.
Early on in the second quarter, it appeared that it would be much of the same with North Carolina pushing forward. Despite this, Henriksen and the Virginia defense denied the Tarheels a goal.
North Carolina junior forwards Meredith Sholder and Erin Matson both took a shot early in the second, but both were saved by Henriksen. However, the Cavalier resistance on defense was broken minutes later when Matson — the reigning NFHCA National Player of the Year — found the back of the net.
The shot came from mid-circle off of an assist from junior forward Hannah Griggs. Henriksen managed to get a hand on it, but was unable to keep it out of the goal.
Up 1-0, the Tar Heels maintained the pressure offensively by launching two more shots at the goal. As the half wound down, Virginia cranked up the aggression on offense.
Sophomore striker Laura Janssen, senior back Rachel Robinson and freshman midfielder Meghen Hengerer all took shots on goal in the final three minutes, but all were denied by Hendry.
The third quarter was the opening the Tar Heels needed to pull away as the team came out firing on offense. Two shots by Matson seemed promising early, but both missed.
A penalty corner by junior midfielder Abby Pitcairn at the 32-minute mark opened the door for a North Carolina onslaught of goals. The first was a strike from sophomore midfielder Paityn Wirth.
Just minutes later, a shot carried in by senior midfielder Eva Smolenaars sailed into the net, allowing the UNC lead to swell to 3-0. This warranted a change for Virginia with the substitution of junior goalkeeper Lauren Hausheer for Henriksen.
Hausheer recorded a save at the 42-minute mark, but was unable to keep out the following shot by Wirth, which came off of a rebound.
Trailing 4-0 into the fourth and final quarter, the Cavaliers found themselves in quite the hole. Janssen’s first shot of the quarter was saved by Hendry, but her second shot struck paydirt with a baseline assist from Hengerer.
Still trailing by three, Virginia looked to score again quickly. The team rattled off five shots in less than five minutes, including three shots from junior back Amber Ezechiels. However, one was blocked, one was wide and the final was saved.
With the icing on the cake for the Tar Heels, Griggs struck with a goal from the left post with only 12 seconds left in regulation to defeat Virginia 5-1. Over the course of game one, North Carolina out shot the Cavaliers 21-10 and had three more corners.
“Lots to take from today’s game,” Coach Michele Madison said. “We will look at film and see what worked and what didn’t work. Tomorrow’s game will be a gut check.”
Game 2: Virginia 1, North Carolina 2
On Monday, the Cavaliers and the Tar Heels took the field for their second matchup. Virginia looked to rebound from their loss as it was the first time the team had lost by more than one goal all season.
Despite this extra motivation, North Carolina picked up right where they left off in the previous game with a quick goal by Smolenaars just before the four-minute mark. As the teams went back and forth throughout the remainder of the quarter, Hausheer came up with two big saves to keep the score 1-0.
Into the second quarter, the Tar Heels found themselves at work on the offensive end. Wirth took two shots early but the first one was saved by Hausheer and the second one blocked.
Next, it was Matson at work for North Carolina taking the next three shots. Hausheer came to the rescue, saving two of the three with the one sailing wide.
The half closed out in dramatic fashion with Matson taking and missing the penalty stroke as it was saved by Hausheer.
Determined to equalize, the Cavaliers made multiple adjustments in hopes of sparking their offense. The team made three substitutions throughout the third period, but still found themselves trailing 1-0.
With two minutes remaining in the third quarter, Virginia found its opportunity to tie it up. Freshman midfielder Anneloes Knol struck with a goal from the top of the circle bringing the score to 1-1.
With both squads deadlocked at 1-1 heading into the fourth and final quarter, the Cavaliers had an opening to take the lead. A penalty corner by Knol led to a shot by Ezechiels, but Hendry saved it.
Just two minutes later, the Tar Heels broke the tie with a goal from Sholder off of an assist from Matson.
In desperation mode, Virginia emptied the net around the 57-minute mark. Substituting off Hausheer for junior midfielder Peyton Tollaksen, the Cavaliers made a rush to equalize and send the game into overtime.
Despite their efforts, the clock ran out and North Carolina secured the sweep, winning 2-1. Virginia was outshot by the Tar Heels 15-4 with Matson leading the team with 6 shots taken — 4 of them on goal.
“I am so proud of the team’s determination to bounce back and play U.Va. hockey,” Coach Michele Madison said. “Even though this team is too good to ever settle for a loss, we are proud of our work today. It is impressive to me that we could come back in back-to-back games and make the adjustments we agreed against a very talented UNC team.”
The Cavaliers will look to rebound next week where they will travel to Newton, Mass. to face Boston College in an ACC matchup.