ACC Field Hockey Tournament Recap
This past weekend the #1 ranked UNC Tar Heels, the defending ACC champs, hosted the ACC field hockey championship in Chapel Hill. Play began on Thursday with two quarterfinal matches scheduled for the day. In the first quarterfinal match, #17 Boston College faced unranked Wake Forest with UNC waiting for the winner in the semifinals. In the other quarterfinal match, #22 Duke faced #7 Maryland with the winner advancing to face the University of Virginia in the second semifinal match (UNC and #6 UVA secured byes in the tournament by placing 1 and 2 in the ACC standings during the regular season).
Entering the tournament, the favorites to meet in the final had to be UNC and Virginia, the top two seeds. Maryland was also a contender for the title as the team has won the past two national championships and is no stranger to big games.
The first quarterfinal match between Wake and BC had no clear favorite going into the match. Play was competitive with each squad taking about the same number of shots – BC took 11 and Wake took 9. Wake managed to take a one-goal lead at half and extended the lead to two in the second half. The teams would trade goals in the later stages of the game and Wake would defeat the higher seed 3-1. BC’s loss can be attributed to their failure to convert shots and penalty corners into goal.
In the second match of the quarterfinals, Maryland met Duke. Although they were the unquestioned favorite going into the match, Maryland struggled to assert its dominance. Despite taking twice the number of shots that Duke took, Maryland was tied with the Blue Devils with only 17 minutes remaining in the match. However, Maryland forward Jill Witmer found the net and captured the lead for the Terps as time expired on the clock. Maryland would escape to the semis with a 2-1 victory.
Semifinal play began on Friday. The day started with Wake looking to once again beat the higher seed; this time they faced UNC. However, North Carolina would have none of it and subsequently obliterated the Demon Deacons. With its explosive offense, UNC scored 3 times within the first 15 minutes of play. The Tar Heels would cruise for the remainder of the match and only score once more as they advanced to the finals with a score of 4-0.
Next, UVA met Maryland in what should have been an exciting showdown on the pitch. Earlier in the year the Wahoos beat the Terps by one in a back and forth match that had spectators at the edge of their seats. However, UVA fans were vastly disappointed with the outcome. Behind a hat trick from Sarah Sprink, Maryland beat UVA in blowout fashion 5-1. The UVA faithful had to be scratching their heads after promising regular season performances against ACC opponents.
With the finals set, play on the championship pitch began on Sunday. It was a familiar scene to see the combined winners of the last 7 national championships and last 5 ACC championships meeting in the championship match. It looked as if UNC would run away with the championship as the end of the first half arrived and UNC had a 2-0 lead, but Maryland’s Sarah Sprink, the hero of the previous match, cut the lead to 1. However, Maryland’s momentum came to a grinding halt following a UNC shot that bounced off a Terp player into the net for an own goal. Maryland managed to score again with less than two minutes left in the match, but UNC iced the game with a goal in the final minute to claim the championship by a score of 4-2.
UVA had high expectations for the tournament, but met a prepared Maryland squad that was seeking revenge for the loss earlier in the season. Now UVA must wait for NCAA tournament selection on Tuesday, November 6, to know their future. If Virginia has any aspirations at a national title, they must regroup and refocus. Recently, the team is in a bit of a rut, they are 2-3 in their past five games. Perhaps the losses can help the team put things in perspective as they prepare for a potential berth in the tournament.
Although the ACC is the strongest field hockey conference and, therefore, has a grueling conference tournament, the National Championship will be much more grueling, especially as it enters its latter stages where UVA could expect to face the best squads in the country in consecutive rounds. Expect elite teams like Princeton, Syracuse, Penn St, and UConn to reach the latter stages of the tournament as they try and end the ACC run of championships that dates back to 2002. Hopefully, UVA will be able to extend the ACC
streak as it attempts to capture its first title.
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