Like most other athletics this year, many Division I field hockey programs chose to forgo the season amid the COVID-19 pandemic after many athletic programs cited outbreaks during preseason training. Nearly every Division I field hockey conference canceled their fall seasons in hopes that they could hold their championship games during the spring.
On Tuesday, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors green-lit spring 2021 championship play for several fall sports, including field hockey. This plan involves reducing bracket sizes to 75%capacity and setting championship sites ahead of time. The field hockey championship game is set to be held in early May.
The ACC remains the sole conference among the field hockey programs that is competing during the fall season. This conference includes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Syracuse University, Duke University, Wake Forest University, the University of Louisville, the University of Virginia (UVA) and Boston College.
The ACC began conference play last Sunday, with UNC and Wake Forest competing at Chapel Hill after a slew of postponed games. Despite the large COVID-19 outbreaks at UNC that forced thousands of students to return home in August after a mere week on campus, the Tar Heels hosted the Deacons for the matchup.
UNC, the reigning Division I champion for the past two years, dominated during the matchup. This game marked UNC’s first game back since defeating Princeton University by a score of 6–1 in the championship game last year. The Tar Heels added another tally to their win streak, now at 47 games consecutively undefeated, and have yet to lose a game in over 1,000 days.
The Tar Heels came out strong during the first period with four shots, three of which from junior forward and captain Erin Matson. Currently, Erin plays for the U.S. women’s national team, leading the team to a bronze at the 2019 Pan American Games. Matson also was chosen as the 2019 First Point USA/NFHCA Division I National Player of the Year, after being the leading goal scorer for the Tar Heels’ undefeated 2019 season. Safe to say, Matson is a firecracker on the field, unafraid to put high pressure on any team she comes across.
During the first period, UNC was unable to capitalize on their short corner, and both teams entered the second period with no score on the board. When the Tar Heels set off for their third short corner play of the day, junior forward Cassie Sumfest swept the ball into the lower left corner of the cage, straight past two of Wake Forest’s defenders and past first-year goalie Tori Glaister. Sumfest scored UNC’s first goal of the season after missing the entire 2019 season due to an injury.
Shortly after the Tar Heels scored, Wake Forest’s sophomore midfielder Nat Friedman received the ball from junior defender Eleanor Winants. Dribbling down the right side of the field, Winants nailed a pass to Friedman, who was able to tuck the ball into the cage for Wake Forest’s first goal of the season.
Minutes later the Tar Heels revived a penalty corner, hoping to regain their lead prior to the second half of play. The penalty corner was set up with junior midfielder Abby Pitcairn putting the ball into play, reaching sophomore defender Madison Orobono straight at the top. Orobono lined up the ball at the top of the short corner for Matson to nail into the goal. Matson fired off a shot without hesitation and found the right corner of the goal for her 54th career goal for the Tar Heels. With this goal, Matson is now tied for 10th place in UNC history for most goals scored, only one game into her junior season. Maston has quickly risen to the top of several records in the Tar Heels record book, already leaving a legacy for her time at UNC.
Entering the third period of play, the Tar Heels held a one-point advantage. With senior goalie Amanda Hendry in the cage for UNC, scoring was made even more challenging for Wake Forest. Matson quickly dribbled into the Deacons’ corner, slipping a ball past the Deacons’ defense to teammate and junior forward Meredith Sholder who pulled the ball left. Sholder dodged a Wake Forest defender, setting up the ball for herself at the left and fired a reverse sweep shot into the goal, bouncing off the Deacons goalie as she attempted to make a save.
The Tar Heels, who were now up by two points, steadily held their lead throughout the rest of play, thwarting any attempts on goal by the Deacons’ offense. The game ended with neither team adding another tally to the score, and the Tar Heels came away with the season-opening win.
UNC is scheduled to play Louisville away next Friday, Oct. 2, while Wake Forest will play UVA away this Saturday.