Northwestern couldn’t put it away when it mattered most. Graduate forward Peyton Halsey missed her shot in a sudden-death shootout, opening the door for sophomore Ryleigh Heck to cage the game-winning goal for the Tar Heels with a score of 2-1.
First-year forward Charly Bruder struck first for North Carolina, putting the Tar Heels on the board in the third quarter. While Halsey hit the game-tying goal a few minutes later, it was her errant shot that allowed the home team to win their second consecutive championship.
The ‘Cats were aggressive from the get-go, drawing a penalty corner less than 45 seconds into the game, but Halsey sailed the shot wide. For over 10 minutes, both teams fought for possession without a shot on goal as each defense held strong. UNC appeared in control for the last five minutes of the frame, thanks to its ability to disrupt NU’s passing lanes.
At the end of the quarter, neither squad attempted a shot on goal. The ‘Cats and Tar Heels combined for just three total shots in the first 15 minutes.
To start the second frame, Bruder fired from the top of the circle but couldn’t cage the shot. Wildcat goalie Annabel Skubisz recorded her first save with 11 minutes remaining when graduate midfield Pleun Lammers shot wildly into a crowd of players right in front of the goal. Heck lifted the rebound, but first-year Ilse Tromp swat the shot away to back up her goalie.
With just 0.7 seconds left in the half, the ‘Cats drew their second corner of the match. Graduate midfield Alia Marshall quickly fired the ball to the top of the circle, but NU couldn’t convert its rare chance at the goal.
North Carolina simply dominated possession in the first half, intercepting Northwestern’s passes left and right. Though they didn’t attempt a single corner, the Tar Heels outshot the ‘Cats six to one.
The ‘Cats looked sluggish entering the second half of action. With 12:37 remaining in the third quarter, the Tar Heels drew their first corner of the day. Bruder took a confident swing and fired it past the outstretched arm of Skubisz, putting North Carolina up 1-0.
NU got another chance with 90 seconds left in the quarter by drawing its third corner. While Tar Heels goalie Maddie Kahn saved Tromp’s shot, the ‘Cats managed to draw a penalty stroke. Halsey didn’t let this opportunity pass her by, as she fired it past Kahn to tie the game at 1-1.
PEYTON WITH THE EQUALIZER! pic.twitter.com/1AH6AGCBQ0— Northwestern Field Hockey (@NUFHCats) November 19, 2023
With less than a minute remaining, the ‘Cats were awarded another corner after a lengthy video referral. NU got a redo after Lauren Wadas’s shot hit the foot of North Carolina back Romea Riccardo. This time, Kahn saved Tromp’s signature drag flick to keep the game knotted at one goal apiece.
Entering the final frame, the Tar Heels had an early chance to strike. First-year midfield Sanne Hak intercepted a pass by the ‘Cats, but couldn’t capitalize on a running start as she fired wide of the goal.
With 81 seconds to go, North Carolina couldn’t have drawn their second corner at a more crucial time. Bruder couldn’t get her shot close to Skubisz as it steered left of the goal.
The ‘Cats got the chance to strike on a corner with just over 30 seconds remaining in regulation. Wadas was able to lift the ball past Kahn, but the referees determined that her shot was too high. With that missed chance, the ‘Cats guaranteed themselves another 10 minutes of field hockey.
To begin the overtime period, Heck swatted the ball toward the goal but couldn’t get it past Skubisz. The Tar Heels drew a corner with 7:14 remaining, but Skubisz saved a shot by junior midfield Jasmina Smolenaars and watched Sietske Bruning’s second-chance attempt sail wide.
With five minutes left, senior midfield Katie Jones and the ‘Cats streaked down the field, but she couldn’t find the angle on her shot. Less than three minutes later, the Tar Heels went on a sprint of their own and drew a penalty stroke.
Heck stepped up for North Carolina and tried to lift it past Skubisz, but she couldn’t get it past the stick of the incredible goalie. And with that, the gassed ‘Cats headed toward double overtime.
At the start of 2OT, first-year forward Olivia Bent-Cole showed off her speed but couldn’t put the ball near Kahn on her shot. With 6:36 remaining, Halsey got called for a green card, leaving the ‘Cats to play six-on-seven.
With just over five minutes to go, the Tar Heels drew a corner with the chance to win it all. But North Carolina couldn’t find a look they liked, ruining a prime opportunity to take home the trophy.
The ‘Cats got out and ran with three minutes left, as Bent-Cole and Wadas had just one Tar Heels defender in their path. OBC dished to Wadas, who couldn’t get it past a diving Kahn. Just over a minute later, Bent-Cole got another great look but sailed it wide once more. NU couldn’t convert its bounty of opportunities before the clock hit zero, sending the title game to a shootout.
Heck kicked off the shootout with a goal, but Halsey fired back to knot it at one apiece. Bruning fired North Carolina’s second shot wide, and Wadas capitalized and found the back of the goal. Skubisz locked up Bruder on the Tar Heels’ third attempt, but Lindsey Frank was tripped up on her shot.
Tar Heels senior Katie Dixon hit the shot to tie it at two, and OBC couldn’t find the proper angle to put the ‘Cats up. Hak stumbled over Skubisz, and Regan Cornelius stepped up with the chance to win it all. She lost the ball and recovered it to shoot, but couldn’t get it past Kahn.
Halsey came back up in sudden death but couldn’t find the goal in a crushing miss. Heck then had her opportunity and fired another goal past Skubisz, winning it all for the Tar Heels.
It was yet another crushing defeat for the ‘Cats, who lost in a similarly devastating fashion last year to North Carolina. But don’t let it be forgotten that Northwestern continues to shape itself as a field hockey powerhouse.