Project 28: Field Hockey vs. VCU
Our third installment of Project 28 takes you to a match between the second-ranked UNC field hockey team and visiting VCU.
Home of the Tar Heels
Carolina field hockey has a beautiful facility in Francis E. Henry Stadium, located across Ridge Road from Boshamer Stadium and adjacent to Navy Fields. Raised bleacher seating across from the team benches provides great viewing angles. From the top of the Stadium, one can look in every direction and see Carolina athletic facilities. Henry Stadium was dedicated in 1999.
Head coach Karen Shelton is in her 32nd season at the helm of the Tar Heels. Since her arrival in 1981, the program has captured six NCAA championships and is perennially in the national title hunt. Three Tar Heel alumnae represented the United States at the 2012 Olympic Games, and five current Tar Heels were named to Junior National teams this summer. Co-MVPs Caitlin Van Sickle and Kelsey Kolojejchick return for their senior seasons after leading the team to a runner-up finish in the 2011 national title game. Sophomore Charlotte Craddock comes to Carolina from Wolverhampton, England, and is notable for being the youngest member of England's 2008 Olympic team. Carolina was picked second in the ACC in the preseason.
Sunday's tilt was the second of back-to-back matches for the Field Hockey Tar Heels. After a 3-2 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, they hosted the VCU Rams, who at 8-1 were off to their best start in program history. Carolina came into the game at 11-1, their only loss coming in overtime at Syracuse.
Field hockey is a game that can be appreciated on multiple levels. For newcomers, it seems pretty simple: get the ball into the net. But experienced viewers can see the strategy that goes into set pieces and the tactics employed by the coaches. Penalty corners, earned when the defense commits an infraction inside the shooting circle, allow the offense to set up a quality shot opportunity. Deflections are common in this game, and offenders jostle for position for second-shot attempts. On this day, Carolina dominates possession early frustrating the Rams' bench into earning a green card for misconduct. The Tar Heels pepper VCU goalkeeper Megan Botteri with the match's first 11 shots, to no avail. VCU's first penalty corner results in the game's first goal by Kelsey Scherrer on an assist from Kendall Combs. Carolina answers back in fewer than three minutes when Sinead Loughran scores on the run to tie the game. Five minutes later, Kolojejchick gets on the scoresheet with goal off of a rebound. 2-1 Tar Heels at halftime.
Fifty-four minutes into the second half, Kolojejchick strikes again. She and Abby Frey then assist on a Marta Malmberg penalty corner. Kolojejchick completes the hat trick and then records an assist on a Craddock give-and-go to make the final score 6-1, Tar Heels. The home team allowed the visitors just two shots and two penalty corners, and the Tar Heels reeled off six straight after falling behind early.
"A very good result against a feisty VCU team," Shelton says afterward, crediting Botteri for holding off the Tar Heels as long as she did. "I certainly felt very good about the second half," she says. "I thought Kelsey Kolojejchick was outstanding today, getting the first goal of the second half, I thought, was critical."
Carolina displayed offensive balance in the game, with three of their goals coming in penalty corner situations, and three in the run of play. "One of our core values is two-touch passing," Shelton said. "Width and depth, communication on defense, set pieces . . . we have many core values, and so we try and stick with those."
The listed attendance for Sunday's match was 325. That was a mix of families, students, fans, and a healthy contingent from Richmond. The Carolina Pep Band was on hand to provide the game's soundtrack. A group of team dads stood on the upper concourse to encourage their daughters. This is a knowledgeable fan base, but not an intimidating one. They were welcoming to the sport's newcomers and nothing if not supportive of positive play.
When the Tar Heels found the net, the stands erupted as they would a touchdown. The band struck up the Tag, and the fans clapped along.
Ireland native Sinead Loughran visited Carolina for field hockey camp and knew she had to be a Tar Heel. "I got a taste of being a Tar Heel, and I wanted more. I got one bite, and I wanted the whole thing. It was just sold to me then." Loughran, who said she hadn't played organized field hockey above the high school level before arriving at UNC, soaked in the atmosphere when she scored the game's first goal. "It's unbelievable," she said. "It's just so nice, because you feel part of a family and when you get a goal, it's like everyone's there supporting you. You're not just winging it, or just messing around on the field. You're part of something that's organized and competitive, and it's so amazing, and when you get a goal, you feel so rewarded for all the hard work that you put in."
Bet You Didn't Know
The weekend set of games marked the first time that Carolina had its full complement of players, with Craddock returning from sitting out six games and three Junior National players returning to the fold. "We still need to grow together, but I think we're on our way to being quite a good team," Craddock said.
Carolina is on the road for games in Newton, Mass. against Boston College and Dartmouth next weekend. They'll return home to face Virginia on Saturday, October 13 at 1 p.m. before road games at Maryland and Old Dominion, respectively, on the two following weekends. The team closes out the regular season with Radford on October 28 at 1 p.m. before hosting the ACC Tournament November 1-4.