‘We say win each quarter,’ UNC head coach Erin Matson on Carolina field hockey’s game plan

The expression on Saint Joseph’s Manu Ghigliotti’s face said it all.


She was the first to score in the Hawks home game against North Carolina last Sunday. Celeste Smits passed the ball into the circle, where Ghigliotti caught the bouncy ball in the air and took a standing reverse hit that fired past Maddie Kahn.


There were just over 30 seconds remaining in the first quarter.


The exhilaration of breaking the ice against the No. 2 team in the country seemingly sent shockwaves throughout each of the Hawks lines. And, while Saint Joseph’s defense moved deftly in the backfield, Carolina’s shrewd offense was able to counter them for the 4-1 win.


“We say win each quarter,” UNC head coach Erin Matson said. “If we do that, we’re going to win the game. We have a 0-0 mentality. They know what that means, it speaks to them.”


Those words resonated with the Heels quickly after the first quarter. Charly Bruder gave her team the jolt that they needed to find the equalizer. The Hawk’s Janelle Ward blocked the Heel’s initial corner shot, swatting it down from above her helmet, only to have Bruder rebound the ball and definitively slam it into the cage.


Just before halftime, the Heels earned another corner. The ball was sent to the top of the circle, where Carolina paused, faked, and executed a quick give and go. Ryleigh Heck passed to the stroke and Sietske Bruning took her shot. There was no time remaining on the clock.


The score remained 2-1 until the fourth quarter. The third quarter could have gone either way, but neither team was able to land one.


“Heading into the fourth quarter, [our mentality] was we need to win the fourth quarter,” Matson said. “A tie is great, but let’s have a mentality of winning it. We’ve talked about the fourth quarter, that it matters, we want to sustain that energy and momentum for the entire 60 minutes.”


Carolina’s fourth quarter was filled with 2 v 1s, 1 v 1s, and 1 v 2s. The Heels broke the game down into the smaller game and tactical play. Heck weaved her way through the Hawks defense, taking the ball to baseline, and getting out of two 1 v 2s using 3D skills, and then again using a low shot option to throw in another goal early in the fourth.


Moments later, Paityn Wirth was poised for a tip from a scorching pass to earn the final point of the game.


“The energy was good this morning,” Wirth said. “Vibes went through the whole game. It was a good step in the right direction, but we’re not done yet. Every quarter is a new start. We start each one 0-0. Whenever we come out, we have things we’re working on each quarter and communicating it between the lines to get the ball in the back of the net.”


Carolina hosts Boston College at Chapel Hill on Friday in an ACC matchup.


“We came out strong, we fought together as a team,” Heck said. “We know it’s a really good team win. We’re excited, happy, and looking forward to the next game. We just go for it. Four went in, but we want more, obviously.”


Carolina is 8-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play.


“A lot of our friends are on the [Boston College] team,” Wirth said. “[Heck’s] sister specifically. It’ll be a fun game, family-oriented. It’s always a good game. The next one is always the most important.”


Coaches comments:


“You’re not gonna see a different Carolina team if we’re up five goals versus down five,” Matson said. “We want to keep that intensity; be smart, obviously play the game and have good gamesmanship.


We knew what their defense on the baseline, specifically on the right side, can do. They’re forcing us to their forehand. In the beginning of the game, you saw us just chucking the ball in, not having a connection. We came back together, and we were like, guys this isn’t Carolina hockey. Play your 1 v 1s, we work so hard on, obviously the game IQ tactical stuff, but we put a lot of time and energy into the fundamentals and skills to have the confidence to play the 1 v 1, even a 2 v 1 or 1 v 2. They came back out looking for it; if you have that ball in, you have that connection, let’s go direct, let’s play it.


Confident and patient, dictating what the defenders are doing. Ryleigh and Payton translating that from talking about it to it’s working, let’s not do anything different.”



“I think we have to continue each week to train them and take it very seriously,” Saint Joseph’s head coach Hannah Prince said. “Those moments can make or break a game. And, put you back in a game or take you out of a game. We take it very seriously in training. I think we’ve been getting out for extra sessions. We practice multiple times a week. We have players who really want to score and want to own their role to continue to get better. And, working toward putting together each piece so that we make us unstoppable. The speed of that game is some of the best in the country, if not the best in the country. I think this was a great step to get us ready for UMass on Friday and Harvard on Sunday. The transitions defensively and on our attack are top-notch and that’s what we like to see. That’s what we like to do in training, so we’re ready for next weekend.”


Game details, according to St. Joe’s:

• UNC held a 17-6 advantage in shots on the day and out-cornered the Hawks, nine to six.  Kahn made two saves while Janelle Ward matched a season-high with seven stops for the Hawks.

• The Tar Heels are the highest-ranked squad to ever visit Hawk Hill; they were also the previous highest-ranked team that the Hawks have hosted when SJU earned a 3-2 victory over fourth-ranked UNC in 2021.


Carolina is currently ranked No. 1 in the National Field Hockey Coaches Association Poll. Saint Joseph’s is 9-3 overall and is 3-0 in Atlantic-10 Conference. St. Joe’s was ranked No. 13 prior to the contest and is currently No. 14.


Photo: Bob Benscoter, UNC at St. Joe’s


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