The No. 10-ranked University of Louisville field hockey fell 1-0 to sixth-ranked North Carolina in a tightly contested ACC Championship final Sunday afternoon at Trager Stadium.
“First of all, Carolina is a great team,” said UofL head coach Justine Sowry. “They’re experienced. They’re skillful, and they’re clearly coached as a great team. I’m just so proud of our team right now that we made this far.”
Fifth-seeded North Carolina (16-4) gained possession early in the first half, with the third-seeded Cardinals (14-7) applying defensive pressure to keep the Tar Heels off the board. Ayeisha McFerran picked up right where she left off in Friday’s semifinal, notching two saves in the opening minutes to maintain the scoreless tie between the two teams through the first five minutes of action.
Despite firing four shots in the early minutes, the Tar Heels were unable to break through the stalwart Cardinal defense. However, in the 18th minute Eva Smoelnaars and Eva van’t Hoog connected with Malin Evert on a penalty corner opportunity, sending a sweeping shot from the top of the circle into the cage to give the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead.
North Carolina took the lead into halftime after holding a 6-1 edge in shots and a 1-0 advantage in corners over the Cardinals. McFerran finished the half with two saves.
The Tar Heels continued to attack on offense in the second half, but McFarran and the Cardinal defense thwarted North Carolina’s attempts to increase their lead. However, North Carolina matched their offensive efforts with equally staunch defense to keep the Cardinals from tying the score.
In the 57th minute, Whena Munn raced up the field looking for the equalizer, but her shot was stopped by Amanda Hendry. Nonetheless, Munn’s shot kick-started the Louisville offense. Minutes later, the Cardinals earned a penalty corner, but Hendry once again earned a crucial save for the Tar Heels.
With just over five minutes left on the clock, North Carolina was awarded another penalty corner. Looking to increase their lead to 2-0, van’t Hoog launched a shot to the goal, but McFarran made a critical save to keep the Cardinals within striking distance. However, Louisville was unable to find an open shot in the final minutes, falling to the Tar Heels 1-0.
In the game, the Tar Heels led the Cardinals 13-4 in shots and 4-1 in penalty corners. McFerran recorded five saves, while North Carolina’s Hendry had four stops.
“It’s so disappointing that we were unable to put one in the back of the net,” said Sowry. “We’re young. Even right up to the last five minutes we didn’t really know quite how to handle those moments. I’ll put it down to youth, but it’s been one heck of a season so far. To win back-to-back against Syracuse and a formidable Duke lineup, that’s preparing ultimately for the for the NCAA Tournament and potentially the Final Four. I’m super proud. Unfortunately, we were beaten by a more structured, organized, more skillful team today.”
As a result of their performances throughout the weekend, three Cardinals earned ACC Tournament honors, including McFerran, sophomore Carter Ayars, and freshman Alli Bitting.
The NCAA selection show will take place tonight at 10 p.m. ET and will be shown on NCAA.com.
Assistant Sports Information Director
University of Louisville Athletics