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UNC field hockey defeat Northwestern to win 10th national championship

The Tar Heels continued their field hockey dynasty after they pulled out a late win over the Wildcats.

Wake Forest v North Carolina Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

For the 10th time in program history and the fourth time in the last five years, North Carolina Tar Heels field hockey are national champions!

UNC emerged victorious with a 2-1 win after a battle against Northwestern that quite literally went down to the final minute. With just more than a minute left in the game, Erin Matson added another feat to her already incredible career and slotted home a go-ahead goal. The Tar Heels managed to hold out from there and sealed the title.

Carolina has been a fairly high-scoring team this year, coming in averaging over four goals per game, but the Wildcats managed to keep them in check for most of the game. Ryleigh Heck gave the Heels a 1-0 lead early in the second quarter, but the game was mostly a defensive battle after that. UNC still generally had more chances, but they couldn’t get a second goal to get a cushion.

The game stayed at 1-0 until late in the fourth quarter, when it appeared like Carolina was going to hang onto that slim lead. However with just under two minutes left, Northwestern pulled their goalie and then scored a goal on a penalty corner, keeping the game alive.

With the game suddenly in the balance again, UNC needed a hero or two to step up. Considering their dominance in recent years, they had the experience needed to do just that. They quickly got the ball back down the field, and Matson slipped a shot through the Northwestern defense, answering just 39 seconds after the Wildcats had tied the game. After that, the remaining seconds ticked away without incident, and a title was won.

The win wrapped up not only the fourth title in five seasons, but also completed a perfect 21-0 season. It also marked a bit of revenge for the Tar Heels. The only blemish in that four in five years mark is last year, when the Northwestern team that they beat won the title. The Wildcats also knocked out UNC on their way to that title.

Especially lately, North Carolina already have been the marquee program in NCAA field hockey, but this win only confirms it further. This year’s title breaks a tie with Old Dominion and gives UNC the solo lead for the most all-time national championships in the sport. They join women’s soccer as the two programs at the school who hold that distinction. Coach Karen Shelton has been the architect for pretty much all of that, as she’s been at the helm for all 10 of the national title wins.

As for the championship goal-scorer Matson, she’s going to go down as one of the all-time best athletes at UNC and in all of college sports. She’s been on the roster for all of the titles in the four in five years stretch, and has been a star the whole time. She seems likely to be named an All-American for the fifth time in her career, and has already been National Player of the Year twice. This was also the second time she scored the national title winning goal, as her overtime winner gave UNC the championship in the COVID-affected 2020/2021 season.

North Carolina field hockey has been on a remarkable run in recent years and long may it continue.