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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern field hockey falls 2-1 to UNC in the national championship

An absolute heartbreaker to end the season in Storrs.

Back-to-back will have to wait.

2-seed Northwestern fell 2-1 in brutal fashion to undefeated 1-seed North Carolina in the NCAA title game on Sunday, denying the Wildcats a second consecutive national championship. While the Tar Heels dominated much of the contest, outshooting NU 15-2 (9-1 on goal), the loss was still gut-wrenching. The ‘Cats tied the game with less than two minutes left in regulation on a Bente Baekers penalty corner goal, but proceeded to give up the game winner just 40 seconds later.

The UNC offense was relentless in the first quarter. Northwestern didn’t manage any shots, whereas Carolina had five and were awarded two penalty corners. Thanks to the incredible efforts of Annabel Skubisz and the NU defense, though, no goals were allowed in. Skubisz quickly showed that she is one of the best goaltenders in college field hockey, blocking a penalty stroke by Erin Matson — the national leader in points — five minutes into the game.

The Tar Heels began the second quarter with intensity. Just two minutes into the period, UNC had accrued another two penalty corners, scoring on the latter to go up 1-0. It was another quarter of Carolina dominance, but once more, Skubisz showed her reliability, allowing only the lone goal on ten shots — 7 on goal — by the end of the half. Meanwhile, the Northwestern offense remained dormant, failing to put up a shot or any real offensive attack in the second 15 minutes of play.

15 minutes later, it seemed the usually-ferocious Wildcats team may go down without a fight. The third quarter was scoreless, with the ‘Cats again failing to generate a single shot or corner. The NU defense shored up slightly, failing to allow the constant onslaught of pressure it had in the previous two quarters, but Tracey Fuchs’ team still found itself behind by a goal without any real offensive momentum headed into the final period of regulation.

To start the fourth quarter, the Wildcats began to show some life, albeit in unfortunate fashion. Presented with a chance in front of a largely open net, Bente Baekers fired wide, missing her target but getting NU its first shot of the game. The Tar Heels played keep away for most of the fourth but with under three minutes, the Wildcats initiated some more excitement. Northwestern got its first corner of the game at the two-minute mark, and Baekers redeemed her earlier misfire with a shot that found the board. The goal, which featured assists from Kayla Blas and Alia Marshall, tied the game at one with 1:59 to go in regulation.

The adrenaline rush was short-lived. Less than a minute later, Matson dashed through the Northwestern defense and launched a go-ahead goal that sent UNC back ahead by one. The ‘Cats were unable to build much offensive momentum afterward, and found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-1 score when the final buzzer sounded.

The loss marked the end of at least one Wildcat’s college career: fifth-year starter Kayla Blas, who has been one of NU’s most valuable defensive players throughout its multi-season run as a contenders. This title marks the tenth in program history for the Tar Heels, who have the most national championships of any team in the country.