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North Carolina field hockey’s attack was prepped for Saint Joseph’s defense, which turned a tight 2-1 halftime into a 4-1 victory for the Tar Heels.
The two squads squared off at Ellen Ryan Field Sunday. It’s the third time the teams have met within just over a year; the last time being in the 2022 NCAA Division I tournament Elite Eight. Carolina went on to become the national champions.
For some of the Heels, the game may have been in Philadelphia, but it felt like home. There were about 100 Carolina fans in attendance. Several of the athletes are from Pennsylvania or nearby states.
Both Ryleigh Heck and Paityn Wirth are two of those athletes, who had theatrical performances in the fourth that helped to seal their team’s fate. St. Joe’s was first on the board in the first with over 30 seconds remaining. The Hawks matched the Heels pace of play, which is…quick.
Quick self-start passes. Quick to transition to defense. Quick to defend their cage.
But, the No. 13 Hawks weren’t being stomped on by the No. 2 Heels. Their defense was primed for post shots, including a third quarter denial after their goalie chose to lay down on the initial shot. The ball was ponged out of the backfield, sent to the right, and a breakaway ensued.
Carolina’s no-look passes and unit movement, always switching the speed dial or patiently executing a fake on a corner, began to wear down the Hawks in the fourth. With a score of 2-1, Heck tried a left circle entry, where she had to twice, or thrice, be as nice with her 3D skills to get around the defense.
Once she got beyond being trapped, she broke through a double team to blaze a path toward cage.
Instead of putting the ball into Janelle Ward’s kickers, she tempted the St. Joe’s goalie, got her to commit, fell into her, and lobbed the ball into the net to make the score 3-1. With that extra insurance, Wirth was up next only a few minutes later positioned at left post.
A blistering paced ball was slammed into the circle, where Wirth tipped it into the cage for the 4-1 score.
St. Joe’s defense had a noticeable breakdown, but were also visibly trying to organize. They were able to get the ball out of the backfield and in scoring position as the clock wound down, but there wasn’t enough time to catch up to the Heels.
North Carolina is 8-1 on the season. They play an ACC conference matchup against Boston College at Chapel Hill on Friday. St. Joe’s is 9-3 overall on the season. They also have A-10 conference play next week against UMass.
North Carolina 0-2-0-2: 4
Goals: Charly Bruder, 1; Sietske Bruning, 1; Ryleigh Heck, 1; Paityn Wirth, 1
Assists: Ryleigh Heck, 1; Charly Bruder, 1
Penalty corners: 3
Saves: Maddie Kahn, 3
Saint Joseph’s 1-0-0-0: 1
Goals: Manu Ghigliotti, 1
Assists: Celeste Smits, 1
Penalty corners: 6
Saves: Janelle Ward, 7