College Games: NCAA Division I Semifinals & Final
by Paige Powell, USA Field Hockey’s College Content Intern
It’s been another thrilling NCAA Tournament so far, with all indicators pointing to two excellent semifinal games. After overtime thrillers, shootouts and upsets, the four teams that remain are No. 1 North Carolina, No. 2 Northwestern, No. 3 Maryland and Penn State.
As was predicted at the start of the season, it is the Big Ten (B1G) and Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) who churned out the top teams. This season’s semifinal round features three B1G teams, while last year we saw representation from the B1G, BIG EAST and Ivy League. Also notable in this year’s action was Saint Joseph’s picking up their first NCAA Tournament win in program history over Wake Forest, as well as UAlbany knocking off No. 4 Michigan in the first round.
The team on everyone’s mind is top-seeded North Carolina. With their perfect 19-0 record and dominant performances, it’s hard not to cast them as a shoe-in for the championship trophy. But this is field hockey and as is the case in any sport, anything can happen.
The semifinals will kick off Friday, November 18 at 12:00 p.m. ET in Storrs, Conn., at the home of the University of Connecticut Huskies. Penn State will take on North Carolina for the first time in 14 years. After what will no doubt be an exciting matchup, Northwestern and Maryland will play for the second championship match spot at 3:00 p.m. ET. Both matches will be streamed on ESPN+.
After a disappointing - relative to North Carolina’s previous success - postseason result in 2021, the Tar Heels are on track for redemption. Last season Northwestern beat them, 2-0, in just the first round of NCAA play. Now, the Wildcats have a chance to defend their 2021 crown and claim back-to-back championships. Northwestern and Maryland both played in a semifinal match last season, while North Carolina and Penn State were both were eliminated in round one of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.
Friday, November 18, 2022
No. 1 North Carolina 3 - 0 Penn State | 12:00 p.m. ET | ESPN+
Regular season B1G co-champion Penn State (17-3) will take on ACC champion North Carolina (19-0) for a chance for a spot in the NCAA Championship.
North Carolina’s postseason journey started with their sixth consecutive ACC Title, and was followed up with a 5-1 win against Delaware and 5-2 victory over Saint Joseph’s. After leaving the victory over the Blue Hens to underclassmen Kennedy Cliggett, Ryleigh Heck, Ashley Sessa and Lisa Slinkert – Erin Matson came out and tallied a hat trick against the Hawks. To the surprise of some, coach Karen Shelton continues to split time in the cage between her two goalkeepers Taylor Abigail and Kylie Walbert. Working together to round out the extremely talented Tar Heel team, the two combine for a 1.06 goals against average and 0.701 save percentage.
In their two postseason games, the Tar Heels have outscored their opponents 10-3 while the Nittany Lions have a 6-0 margin.
After an overpowering 5-0 victory over Louisville, Penn State was just barely able to squeeze out a 1-0 win over UAlbany. The Great Danes played a strong game to test the Lions, but senior Mackenzie Allessie netted the game-winner off of a rebounded shot in the fourth quarter to seal the deal. Senior goalkeeper Brie Barraco barred five shots from entering the goal after making six stops against Louisville. Junior Sophia Gladieux scored twice against the Cardinals to bring her total this season to 23 goals.
This will be an interesting matchup for sure. While many teams in this postseason had seen each other earlier this fall or in recent years, the Tar Heels and Nittany Lions have not played each other since 2008. In their seven overall matchups, UNC has six victories to Penn State’s one. These two teams have distinctly different styles of play, and the coaching staff will be prepping their respective squads in preparation.
No. 2 Northwestern 2 - 1 No. 3 Maryland | 3:00 p.m. ET | ESPN+
Another postseason game, another B1G showdown as Maryland (19-3) and Northwestern (19-4) square off. This NCAA Semifinal showdown will be a rematch of the B1G Semifinal that took place earlier this season, when Northwestern won 2-1.
Maryland, who still holds the third-most NCAA Championship titles behind North Carolina and Old Dominion at eight, has not hoisted the trophy since 2011. Head Coach Missy Meharg has led the team to seven of those titles, and now looks to lead the Terrapins to their former status. Northwestern, led by head coach Tracey Fuchs, look to defend their 2021 crown.
To get here, both teams had two incredibly challenging matches. Northwestern tested their shootout abilities in both of their postseason contests, defeating Miami (Ohio) and Iowa. Ana Medina Garcia and Aerin Krys scored on their shootout attempt in both matches. Lauren Wadas finished it off against Miami, while Maddie Zimmer and Bente Baekers also contributed in the shootout against Iowa.
For the Terps, it took a penalty stroke attempt made by Riley Donnelly in double overtime to claim victory over Liberty in the first round. Maryland then got their chance to prove their shootout prowess against Syracuse in the second round. Playing to their strengths, they swapped out goalkeeper Christina Calandra with Paige Kieft to defend the shootouts. After being tied up 2-2 after a full round, it was Hope Rose who netted the final goal to secure Maryland a spot in the championship.
Further reason to believe this will be an incredibly close matchup is that the two split their two contests this season, each winning by 2-1 score lines. In regular season play, Maryland upset the Wildcats, 2-1, in overtime with a goal from Dani Van Rootselaar. She also scored the tying goal in just the fourth minute of play, after Northwestern’s Bente Baekers tallied one off a penalty corner a minute prior. The Wildcats and Terps met again in the semifinal match of the B1G Tournament – this time Northwestern taking the 2-1 victory. Alia Marshall and Peyton Halsey netted the two goals, while Kayla Blas and goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz helped the defense lock down yet another Wildcat victory.
In all-time meetings, the Terps hold a 19-12 advantage over the Wildcats.
Sunday, November 20, 2022
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 2 Northwestern | 1:30 p.m. ET | ESPNU
It’s a rematch of the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament as top-seeded North Carolina faces off against No. 2 Northwestern in the championship on Sunday afternoon in Storrs, Conn.
The Wildcats defeated Maryland, 2-1, in a charged semifinal match to get to the final. The back-and-forth contest was scoreless until the fourth quarter, when Bente Baekers clinically executed a penalty corner to put the Wildcats up 1-0. With just a few minutes left to play, Maryland pulled their goalkeeper – opening up an opportunity for junior Chloe Relford to score on an empty net off an assist from Baekers. Up 2-0, Relford’s goal proved to be the game-winner after Maryland’s Emma Deberdine tallied one for the Terrapin’s less than a minute later.
The Wildcats defense stood strong to finish out the match and send the team back to the championship. Goalkeeper Annabel Skubisz tallied five saves to bring her total on the season to triple digits (104).
Meanwhile, North Carolina coasted through the first three rounds. The Tar Heels dispatched Delaware, 5-1, then beat Saint Joseph’s, 5-2. The semifinal was a tighter affair against Penn State - North Carolina didn’t score until the second quarter - but they went on to win, 3-0. After not scoring in the game against Delaware, Matson took over for the Tar Heels, tallying five goals in the last two games. Matson is up to 27 goals and 10 assists on the season, while Paityn Wirth added the third goal in the win over the Nittany Lions.
Last season, Northwestern knocked North Carolina out of the NCAA Tournament in the first round by a score of 2-0. With the loss, the Tar Heels’ three-year title streak was broken. In all-time meetings, the Wildcats hold a slim 5-4 advantage.
Erin Matson and Bente Baekers rank first and second, respectively, in career goals among active players.