No. 2 Duke field hockey performed admirably in defeat to North Carolina, but the power of legacy reigned supreme

Duke players circle together after their to-the-wire loss to North Carolina.
Duke players circle together after their to-the-wire loss to North Carolina.

CHAPEL HILL— The crowd was loud and numerous under the Friday night lights of Karen Shelton Stadium in Chapel Hill. Chants of “Tar-Heels” lingered in the air as the Duke and North Carolina squads battled not only for the ACC outright title but also for the gold star in their seasons. 

Even though the second-ranked Blue Devils had an outstanding season, going 14-3 and having their first winning conference record since 2018, the strength of the North Carolina dynasty proved too much, as they fell 2-1

The Tar Heels have dominated the ACC for nearly a decade, going undefeated in the 2022 season and capturing their fourth national championship in five years. The Blue Devils last win against North Carolina? 2017 — with their last win in Chapel Hill in 2013. 

Despite Duke’s historic and unexpectedly successful season, the rivalry and powerhouse of North Carolina proved too much — even as the Blue Devils continued to play some of their best field hockey yet. 

“We were just not in the moment…” head coach Pam Bustin said after the game. “That’s just being more gamesman in what we do, in decision-making and just learning. We learned from that tonight. It’s a great opportunity for us to get better.”

With only seven shots total, and four of them coming in the last quarter, Duke struggled to create and capitalize on offensive opportunities. The first shot on goal of the night didn’t arrive until the fourth quarter. 

“It’s still what we’re trying to work on, to get better is when we do win the ball and we have the ball on our attack, not to feel that we have to rush it,” Bustin said. “We don’t have to force anything, we can really build our attack.”

North Carolina, however, did not wait to develop its scoring opportunities, as it received three offensive corners in the first 6:07 of the game — though none resulted in goals. 

On the other side of the field, the Blue Devils’ defense shone as it faced eight defensive corners and surrendered none of them, with senior goalie Piper Hampsch recording three saves. 

“She made some really killer saves,” Bustin said of Hampsch. “That really kept us in the game. Overall, we got stronger as the game went on, and that’s really good to see.”

The matchup was also, as was to be expected, not without confrontation, and both teams laid everything out on the turf for bragging rights and the outright conference title. Despite the unfriendly environment and tough competition, Duke kept its discipline and escaped without any penalties, but North Carolina did not, collecting two yellow cards and a green card, with the two yellow cards representing the first and second of the season. 

“I’m proud of the way our team kept their composure under some very heavy defense,” Bustin said. “It got quite physical at times, and we kept it very professional and just played the game.” 

It was due to this physical environment that Duke was finally able to get on the board less than a minute into the fourth quarter. With a yellow card on Kelly Smith with 14 seconds left in the third, the junior back was out for the first four minutes and 46 seconds of the fourth quarter, leaving North Carolina at a defensive disadvantage.

However, the excitement of breaking through the Tar Heels’ defense paid its price as North Carolina scored just 26 seconds later. After an offensive corner goal from Charlie van Oirschot with an assist from sophomore midfielder Macy Szukics, the Tar Heels were able to carry the ball quickly up the field allowing freshman Sanne Hak to score on a save rebound from Hampsch. 

The moment of excitement and rare lack of composure by the Blue Devils led to a quick heartbreaking answer by the Tar Heels. It was a tough price to pay as Duke failed to create more offensive opportunities after the goal and get back in front.

Hope was not lost for the away squad, but the Blue Devils appeared slightly rattled by the quick turn of events as they were continuously pressured defensively. With only 9:27 left in the matchup, North Carolina was able to capitalize on their opportunities more, with senior Katie Dixon getting the winning goal. 

The Blue Devils didn’t leave empty-handed, but they did leave disappointed. Duke and North Carolina split the ACC title, but the squad from Durham ceded the No. 1 seed in the ACC tournament with the loss. 

Coming into the matchup with a better conference record and a higher ranking, Duke looked to have the best chance in nearly a decade to take down the country’s premier field hockey dynasty. It’s possible that the unfriendly environment, the prime-time lights and ACC ramifications caused the Blue Devils to freeze up. 

“We knew it was going to be loud, we knew it was going to be packed,” Bustin said. “It does have an effect… it’s an advantage.” 

The Blue Devils didn’t play poorly by any means. By keeping North Carolina scoreless for three quarters, Duke demonstrated that while its success might be unexpected, it is not to be underestimated. Despite giving up two goals in relatively quick succession, the Blue Devils prevented scoring on eight defensive corners along with remaining disciplined in the face of physical defense and play.

Duke is most likely going to have a chance at redemption with even bigger lights. The Blue Devils’ path to the ACC Championship is filled with battles they’ve conquered before — Wake Forest, one of Louisville or Boston College if they win and potentially North Carolina once more. The bright lights and loud cheers might have rattled Duke slightly, but it now knows what it’s up against if it wants to turn this successful season into a special one. 

“We’ve got the skill, we’ve got the people, we know how to do it,” Bustin said. “And when we do it, we’re really successful.” 


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