No. 3 Duke field hockey shut out for the first time this season, drops ACC title game to North Carolina

Sophomore Alaina McVeigh pushes the ball forward during Duke's regular-season loss to North Carolina.
Sophomore Alaina McVeigh pushes the ball forward during Duke's regular-season loss to North Carolina.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.—It wasn’t until there were 45 seconds left in the first quarter that either the Blue Devils or the Tar Heels registered a shot. A testament to not only the strength of the team's defenses but the closeness of the matchup the opening half between No. 3 Duke and No. 2 North Carolina on Friday night. 

After a close 2-1 loss a week prior, Duke had a chance at redemption as it took on the Tar Heels in the ACC Championship in search of its first ACC title ever. However, the lights might have been too bright, as the North Carolina offense was able to break through in the third quarter scoring two goals, to eventually beat Duke 2-0. 

“We could have been more aggressive in how we attack the ball and how we close down space. That’s something we’re going to look at,” head coach Pam Bustin said after the game. 

The rivals seemed deadlocked during the first quarter as the only shot came with less than a minute to go from sophomore Alaina McVeigh. In Duke’s first penalty corner of the night, McVeigh had a great opening off the corner insert from graduate student Hannah Miller but shot it just wide. 

However, the Tar Heels stormed out the gate in the second half, as they were awarded a penalty corner two minutes in. While goaltender Piper Hampsch was able to stop the original shot from sophomore Ryleigh Heck, the rebound was not immediately controlled as Heck dribbled the ball in the air, bouncing it on her stick before shooting it over the heads of both Hampsch and the Duke (16-4, 5-1 in the ACC) defenders. 

“Carolina came out the second half with great energy. They really came out as a unit moving, with a lot of speed and taking the ball with a lot of speed,” Bustin said. “ It kind of caught us a little bit on our back foot until we got it underneath us.”

Just six minutes later, Duke found its deficit go from down one to two as a key pass from Heck gave freshman forward Charly Bruder a shot over Hampsch’s head, who dropped down expecting a low shot. 

“Carolina played one of the better games of their season tonight,” Bustin said. “The two goals tonight were a result of their ability to switch to the other side of the field really fast and caught us off guard.”

The Blue Devils needed the break between the third and fourth quarters to regroup as they went into the last 15 minutes down 2-0 — to reframe both on and off the field. 

“I was telling them that we still have time and we just had to be on the front foot more and be more aggressive,” Bustin said. “Be brave and be bold to get out there and get things done.”. 

While the players were far from rattled by the refereeing, the shouts from the stands did not convey that message, as parents from both sides hollered into the cold night air. As the clock wound down and Duke was still faced with a two-goal deficit, the Blue Devils eventually challenged for a corner with just 44 seconds left overall. Granted the corner and the call overturned, the corner showed little promise as the shot from McVeigh was saved by the Tar Heel goaltender before the rebound was shot wide out of bounds. With possession back to North Carolina (14-3, 5-1), the Tar Heels' seventh-straight ACC title was all but solidified. 

A field hockey dynasty, North Carolina has dominated the ACC. It has won not only the past seven ACC titles but four out of the last five national championships, including in 2022.

“You’ve got a team, where the majority of the kids won a national championship last year, so there's still so much for us to learn,” Bustin said. 

On Friday night, the Blue Devils had reached their first ACC title game since 2011, and while the pressure of North Carolina might have been too much for Duke two weeks in a row, its season was far from unremarkable, as it went 5-1 in the ACC during the regular season and ranked as high as No. 2 nationally. 

“This is what this team has worked for. They worked for this opportunity to play for an ACC championship. And it’s not easy,” Bustin said. “We’re young. This is just a great experience and we’re not done yet. Whether it’s this season or the next season, we’re gonna keep getting better. You get better from games like this.” 


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