Northwestern knocks off UNC in first round of NCAA Tournament

By Logan Schiciano

There will be no partying in Chapel Hill this year after the NCAA Field Hockey Tournament. 

No. 7 Northwestern (14-5, 5-3 B1G) knocked off the three-time reigning national champion No. 8 UNC (13-7, 4-2 ACC) on Friday 2-0 in the first round from Iowa City, IA.

Northwestern controlled the pace for much of the contest but wasn’t rewarded until early in the fourth period. Midfielder Lauren Wadas delivered a cross into the 16-meter circle that was handled by senior Clara Roth. Though Roth’s shot banged off the post, Ana Medina Garcia was in the perfect position to slap the rebound first-time into the cage.

Garcia’s goal was reminiscent of her last score in Iowa City exactly two weeks prior when she notched the decisive goal in Northwestern’s dramatic upset against the No. 1 Hawkeyes. One stark difference, however, was that in Friday’s game, over 10 minutes remained – plenty of time for a Tar Heel response. 

The Northwestern backline stood firm for several minutes when North Carolina pulled its goalie in hopes of mounting a breakthrough attack. The Tar Heels had one of their best chances with less than five minutes to play. Freshman Jasmina Smolenaars fired a shot from the top of the semi-circle that goalie Annabel Skubisz saved with her right foot – one of her four on the day. 

The ball made its way out to Northwestern midfielder Maddie Zimmer, who turned defense into offense. Zimmer sprinted past four Tar Heels, taking the ball nearly to the end line before driving the ball into the corner of the vacated UNC cage. 

Zimmer’s eighth goal of the season provided padding for the ‘Cats. The team would hold on and celebrate on the field moments later. 

Northwestern is the first team to shut out a defending NCAA champion since 2007 and the first Big Ten team to knock off a reigning champion since 2018. 

The Wildcats did so by containing the nation’s leading goal scorer, UNC senior Erin Matson. The three-time ACC offensive player of the year mustered just two shots against the Wildcats – tied for her fewest this season. 

Northwestern will now turn its attention back to the hometown Hawkeyes, who ousted them from the tournament a year ago.

The Hawkeyes were nearly shocked by American University earlier Friday. The Eagles took a 2-1 lead into the fourth quarter, but surrendered two goals to Iowa’s Ciara Smith, propelling her team to victory. 

On Sunday at noon, the ‘Cats will need another strong performance from their goalie Skubisz. The sophomore had six saves in Northwestern’s 2-1 win in Iowa City on Oct. 29. Bente Baekers will also look to rebound from a silent Friday, when she only had one shot on target. Northwestern’s leading scorer and three-time All-Big-Ten team member has only had one goal in her last four games. 

The setting for tomorrow’s rematch will be the same, but the stakes will be significantly higher. The winner earns a spot in the Final Four — a place Northwestern hasn’t been since 1994.