Michigan field hockey loses national title game in OT, 4-3, to North Carolina

·3 min read

It took just three periods on Sunday night for history to be made in the NCAA field hockey championship game, as Michigan’s Sarah Pyrtek chopped a loose ball on the backhand into North Carolina’s net, evening the score at three goals apiece with 34 seconds left in the third. It was the first time in 40 NCAA title games that both teams scored at least three goals.

A little over 21 minutes later, history of another, more important sort to Michigan was made, as the No. 1-seeded Tar Heels won their third consecutive national title, 4-3 in overtime over the No. 2-seeded Wolverines.

Nearly seven minutes into sudden-death overtime, Erin Matson scored her second goal of the night, and her 28th of the season, backhanding it past Michigan goalie Anna Spieker to end the Wolverines’ hopes of a first national title since winning it all in 2001.

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The victory kept the Tar Heels perfect (37-0) at Karen Shelton Stadium on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill, opened in 2018 and named for UNC’s legendary current coach, who entered Sunday’s final with seven championships already.

But on Sunday, it was another legend being born, as Matson dominated throughout.

Kate Burney opened the scoring with a goal for the Wolverines 9:18 into the first quarter, but Matson evened things up with a shot from the top of the circle just 33 seconds later for her 27th of the season.

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Early in the second period, UNC’s Bryn Boylan was awarded a penalty shot; her stroke 2:38 into the period wasn’t firm, but it had just enough to get past Spieker to give the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead. Just 70 seconds later, Michigan’s Kathryn Peterson was awarded a penalty corner, but the Wolverines couldn’t convert.

Michigan had another excellent scoring chance with less than two minutes in the first half, off a penalty corner by Peterson, but UNC’s defense was able to stop three shots in seven seconds by the Wolverines. U-M finished the half with a 7-3 edge in shots, but UNC led in corners, 4-2, and saves, 3-1.

Michigan goalkeeper Anna Spieker (18) gets set during the Big Ten field hockey tournament finalagainst Ohio State on April 24, 2021, at Grant Field in Iowa City, Iowa.
Michigan goalkeeper Anna Spieker (18) gets set during the Big Ten field hockey tournament finalagainst Ohio State on April 24, 2021, at Grant Field in Iowa City, Iowa.

Matson assisted on the goal made it 3-1 for UNC with a shot ripped from the top of the circle midway through the third period and put in by Mia Leonhardt on the redirect. But the Wolverines weren’t through yet. With 5:06 remaining in the third, Peterson had a rebound land on her stick near the top of the circle, and she fired a shot inside the far post to make it a one-goal game again. Less than four minutes later, it was tied up, as Pyrtek’s backhand skipped past UNC goalie Amanda Hendry.

The two teams played a scoreless fourth, with the Wolverines spending much of the period down a player due to penalties. Overtime was much of the same until Eva Smolenaars took a penalty corner for UNC 6:33 into the period. Smolenaars got the ball to Matson, and six seconds later, it was over.

It’s the second three-peat for North Carolina, which tripled up in 1995-97 under Shelton. No team had won three straight field hockey titles since Wake Forest did so in 2002-04.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan field hockey loses national title game in OT, 4-3, to North Carolina