No. 17 Virginia will host No. 9 North Carolina Friday to bring the regular season to a conclusion. The Cavaliers (10-6, 3-2 ACC) ride a three-game win streak into the matchup and maintain a razor-thin advantage of one non-conference win over the Tar Heels (9-6, 3-2 ACC) in the ACC. The outcome of the contest will determine seeding for both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
As has been the case all season, Virginia’s defense has played a key role in its recent success. In each of the Cavaliers’ last three wins, the defense has allowed only one goal per match. The balance of veteran leadership and crucial new additions have made the difference in Virginia’s pivotal matchups.
Holding it all together behind the back line for the Cavaliers is freshman goalkeeper Tyler Kennedy. The Texas native has earned the starting role over the course of the season and currently sits at second in the ACC in saves with 48 despite not starting off the year in goal. Kennedy has a sturdy save percentage of .762 and will have her work cut out for her against a North Carolina offense that ranks first in the ACC in scoring average with 3.6 goals per game.
Another key Virginia player to watch is senior back Amber Ezechiels. Last week’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week has been a dual-threat standout for the Cavaliers all season, leading the team in goals with seven and commanding impressive defensive stands to close out games, as evidenced in the recent win over No. 12 Syracuse. She was also named ACC Offensive Player of the Week earlier this month, demonstrating her capability on both sides of the field.
The Tar Heels — who fell just short in overtime to No. 6 Louisville last week — will expect a typical display of dominance from senior forward Erin Matson. The first-team All-American and reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year leads the NCAA with 1.5 goals per game and leads the ACC in goals scored with 18, doubling the next closest total. Already a two-time NFHCA National Player of the Year Award winner, Virginia’s defense will have its toughest assignment of the season against Matson.
The clash will come down to a matter of will as a dominant defense comes head-to-head with an offensive force. The Cavaliers have lost their last eight straight games against North Carolina — with their last victory coming in the 2016-2017 season — and will look to correct course and continue their momentum into the upcoming ACC Tournament with a win Friday. The match is set to start at 5 p.m. at Turf Field and will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.