Friday afternoon saw No. 7 Virginia field hockey host No. 2 North Carolina on Turf Field in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers (10-5, 3-3 ACC) took a momentous 3-2 victory over the Tar Heels (12-3, 5-1 ACC) in dramatic fashion, coming back from a two-point deficit at halftime to score three goals within seven minutes in the third quarter. The win was extra special for Virginia fans as it came on Senior Day and a celebration of the program’s 50th anniversary.
Seven of the program’s eight head coaches were honored before the game, and senior midfielder Meghen Hengerer, her twin sister senior midfielder Lilly Hengerer, senior striker Anneloes Knol and senior striker Esha Shah were honored after the game.
“I don’t need to say much because this game speaks for itself, but that’s one heck of a way to kick off a celebration weekend,” Coach Michele Madison said.
The first quarter was closely fought, with neither Virginia nor North Carolina conceding a goal. However, the Tar Heels controlled most of the offensive action, requiring the Cavaliers to work overtime defensively to keep North Carolina in check.
The Tar Heels wasted no time in getting the quarter started with aggressive offensive play. North Carolina’s first shot came from graduate student midfielder Pleun Lammers in just the second minute, though it went wide. A second opportunity for the Tar Heels came from a penalty corner in the 14th minute by senior forward Paityn Worth, but a shot by freshman forward Charly Bruder was blocked by Virginia, and the first quarter concluded in a 0-0 draw.
The second quarter saw the Cavaliers get off to a slow start, falling victim to the aggressive offense play of the ten-time National Champions. The Tar Heels immediately found an opportunity to get the ball into the net, with North Carolina sophomore forward Ryleigh Heck scoring in the third minute of the second quarter for her eighth goal of the season.
The next ten minutes of the second quarter passed without either team allowing offensive strikes from the other, but the Tar Heels ramped up the offensive pressure in the final two minutes of play, securing three penalty corners in the 29th minute. The Cavaliers, however, retaliated with brilliant defensive work.
A penalty corner by senior forward Paityn Wirth early in the 28th minute was followed by a shot on goal by sophomore midfielder Sietske Bruning but was blocked by Virgina. This was immediately followed by a shot on goal by senior defender Romea Riccardo and another penalty corner by Wirth, which was saved by junior goalkeeper Tyler Kennedy.
Coming off the save, a subsequent shot by Bruder was once again blocked by Virginia. Around ten seconds later, North Carolina was awarded yet another penalty corner by Wirth, and a shot by Bruning was once again blocked by Virginia.
However, coming off this block, Heck gained possession of the ball and shot it into the net, bringing the score to 2-0 for North Carolina and bringing Heck to a total of nine goals this season.
For a while, it looked as if history might repeat itself. The Cavaliers have historically fallen short of the Tar Heels — in the two ACC teams’ long rivalry, North Carolina has more often emerged victorious. However, the Cavaliers were not to be denied this time around. They kicked off the third quarter with fierce and unrelenting offensive play.
Virginia’s first goal came under three minutes into the third quarter, with a pass by North Carolina intercepted by junior striker Taryn Tkachuk, who passed the ball to junior midfielder Noa Boterman. Boterman then snuck the ball past the goalkeeper to bring the score to 2-1 for North Carolina.
The Cavaliers’ second goal came less than three minutes later off a penalty corner by sophomore midfielder Daniela Mendez-Trendler. Mendez-Trendler made a long pass to junior defender Jans Croon, who passed the ball to junior defender Emily Field. Field then shot the ball in the net to bring Virginia to a 2-2 draw with North Carolina in her first goal of the season.
The rest of the quarter saw the Cavaliers continue their offensive momentum, with a penalty corner by Hengerer awarded to the Cavaliers in the 38th minute of play. However, the subsequent shot by Croon was blocked by the Tar Heels.
Virginia’s third and game-winning goal came a mere ten seconds later, however, off another penalty corner by Hengerer. Tkachuk took a long shot from just inside the penalty circle to bring the Cavaliers ahead with a score of 3-2.
The fourth quarter saw the Tar Heels create many opportunities for scoring, getting close to doing so a number of times and taking an empty net to add another player onto the field in the 53rd minute. However, Virginia shined defensively, keeping a blistering North Carolina offense at bay. A shot on goal by freshman midfielder Sanne Hak in the 54th minute was saved by Kennedy.
The final whistle sounded for Virginia to triumph 3-2 over North Carolina and break a 12-game losing streak against the Tar Heels — the last time the Cavaliers took home a victory against the Tar Heels was when they won the 2016 ACC Championship.
This win gives the Cavaliers a huge boost as they wrap up their season next weekend. It brings Virginia to a three-game winning streak after back-to-back wins against Wake Forest and No. 2 Duke last weekend.
The Cavaliers have regained the momentum that they lost midway through the season — firing on all cylinders, they have become a force to be reckoned with. Virginia is in a good position to carry this momentum into the post-season, where it has historically been plagued by performances that leave something to be desired.
Virginia’s depth shone in the victory as its three goals came from three different players. Despite North Carolina holding an 6-3 edge in penalty corners, Virginia emerged victorious over what has historically been the best team in the country.
This win certainly bodes well for the Cavaliers — it is a sign that Virginia is in as good shape as ever to make their ACC Championship run in Charlottesville come Oct. 31, where North Carolina, the 25-time and reigning ACC champion, has time and time again thwarted Virginia's pursuit of the title. This time, however, there is promise that things might turn out differently.
Tuesday will see the Cavaliers travel to Harrisonburg to face off against James Madison University for their final match of the season. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.