When Duke defeated North Carolina 5-0 last October, the field hockey team not only snapped a 49-game losing streak dating back to 1981, it also established itself as a national title contender. Both teams will be fighting for more than a win when the two teams face off Saturday.
“It’s not just another game,” head coach Beth Bozman said with a smile. “It’s also an ACC game, it’s UNC, it’s for the South Region. The winner of this will be seeded first in the region. And is there any bigger rivalry?”
The implications are huge for Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup at Williams Field. In their only regular season meeting, fifth-ranked Duke (7-1) and second-ranked UNC (9-0) could decide not only the ACC regular season title, but also the seeding for the ACC and NCAA Championships.
Both teams enter the game on hot streaks. The Blue Devils have won five games in a row, including victories over reigning national champion Wake Forest and Old Dominion, and they have outscored their opponents 45-6. UNC has won all nine contests this year, outscoring opponents 29-4.
After playing three times last year and returning most of their starters, Duke and UNC know each other’s style of play.
“We kind of know what to expect, as their team hasn’t changed much,” junior forward Katie Grant said.
While the Tar Heels rely heavily on All-American Kelsey Keeran, the Blue Devils embody more of a team attack. As a result, six players have 10 points or more.
Duke All-American senior Johanna Bischof downplayed Keeran’s effect on the game.
“We are not going to beat Carolina by playing to her, we’re going to beat Carolina by playing our game,” she said.
Even though Duke beat Old Dominion this weekend, Bozman said the team still has areas to improve upon.
“We were a little flat this weekend, but to be flat and score four goals against Old Dominion isn’t bad,” Bozman said. “We need to revive a little of our passion in our game this week, and that’s pretty easy when you know you’re going to play UNC.”
With more team speed and playing on their home field, Duke believes it has the upper hand. The Blue Devils are 5-0 at home this season.
“I love this field, it’s my favorite place to play in the whole field,” Grant said. “This turf is hard and old—it is definitely an advantage I think.”
Duke will look to capitalize early with its speed and play a team-oriented game to once again upset the Tar Heels.
“We played each other a few times in the spring and it always ended in a tie,” Grant said. “It’s definitely going to be a really good game. After all, the UNC game is always a battle.”
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