Carolina currently tops the field hockey rankings, but a weekend match against #6 Maryland could be the toughest test to date.
While the football team's high scores have been attracting most of the attention in Chapel Hill, the denizens of the other stadium on Stadium Drive have been quietly thrashing the opposition. The UNC Field Hockey team stands at 15-1, and are atop both the coaches poll and the RPI rankings of the sport. Their only loss came in overtime to now number three Syracuse back on September 1st; since then they've been on a tear. The Heels have won 13 straight, scoring 6 or more goals in seven of those wins. Their streak was capped last Saturday with a 3-2 overtime win over fifth-ranked Virginia. Carolina looks more or less unstoppable at the moment.
They'll need to be, as they travel to College Park to face the sixth-ranked Maryland Terrapins.
Maryland and UNC have owned field hockey in recent years, between them taking the last seven national championships. The title game has pitted the Terps against Tar Heels for the last three years, with UNC only winning the trophy once. If this is what can be considered a down year for Maryland — they've lost three times, all to Top-10 opponents — it serves as the perfect opportunity for a talent-heavy Carolina to steamroll over them on the way to a title.
And yet I'm concerned. Yes, the Heels have four of the past five ACC Players of the Week, in sophomore forward Charlotte Craddock, senior midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick, and senior defender Caitlin Van Sickle. Yes, they'r the top field hockey team in the country. But they also have racked up their most impressive wins at home. Since the ACC-Big 10 Challenge that kicked off the season, the Tar Heels best road wins came on a weekend trip to Winston-Salem and Durham; both Wake and Duke barely cling to the rankings at 24 and 25, respectively.
Then there's the fact that UNC last beat the Terps in College Park in 2004. And that Maryland has won five of the last six meetings overall. They're young but impressive, led by sophomore Katie Gerzabek, one of three Maryland players to make the U.S. Junior National team. (UNC also had three players miss part of the season for the same reason.) They have an experienced goalkeeper in Natalie Hunter and an excellent defense led by Ali McEvoy, a junior who has started every game for the Terps and a is a big reason behind their last two championships.
This is the start of a brutal two-game stretch for the Heels to close out the season. They'll follow up with a road game against ninth-ranked Old Dominion before an ACC Tournament tune-up at home against Radford. After that, it's a long march through the postseason. They'll get home field advantage for the ACC Tournament and presumably the opening rounds of the NCAA's, so this is the most tournament-like atmosphere they'll face before the championships. The game is at 3:30 on Saturday, so if your in the area or just want to heck out a tougher match than the football team's opponent will provide, check it out.