By R.L. Bynum
There is no panic within the best field hockey program in the country.
But when Carolina starts the season 0–2 for the first time since 1992, that gets the everybody’s attention.
No. 1-ranked and three-time reigning national champion UNC followed up a season-opening 3–2 Friday loss to No. 2 Michigan with a 3–1 Sunday defeat against homestanding No. 3 Iowa in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with both matches played in Iowa City, Iowa.
“Nobody in our program is panicking,” said legendary coach Karen Shelton, whose team beat both of those opponents in the NCAA tournament last spring. “Everyone is trying hard and our attitude is outstanding; but nobody likes losing.”
In May, UNC won the NCAA title by beating Iowa 3–0 in a national semifinal, then topping Michigan 4–3 in overtime in the national final. The Hawkeyes earned their first victory over UNC since 2008.
Senior forward Erin Matson, the two-time reigning national player of the year, is back, but UNC lost All-American goalkeeper Amanda Hendry, starting defender Courtnie Williamson and Bryn Boylan, who scored six goals last season.
After suffering only one loss in the previous three seasons and taking an 18-game win streak into this season, the Tar Heels have lost consecutive games for the first time since 2013.
“We had our chances in both games,” said Shelton, whose team had a 15–11 shot edge Sunday. “It’s a tough task to start the season on the road against two teams in the top three, and we played them toe-to-toe. We showed a little bit of our youth and inexperience and I’m disappointed that we lost. But I think we’re making progress. From game 1 to game 2, we got better and that’s what we want. It’s about the journey, and we will grow.”
Matson notched the only UNC goal Sunday against Iowa after not scoring against Michigan. Matson has 83 career goals and needs two more to become the all-time leading scorer in program history. Matson is a goal away from tying the school record of 84 Cindy Werley set in the late-1990s.
UNC, which has won nine national titles, has won three consecutive national championships for a second time (also from 1995 to 1997) and is attempting to become the first program in NCAA history to win four consecutive titles.
Carolina’s challenging schedule continues Friday with a game at No. 13 Princeton, then a game next Sunday in Princeton against Penn. UNC plays two games in Philadelphia the weekend after that (against Saint Joseph’s and Drexel) before finally playing its home opener against No. 21 Miami of Ohio on Sept. 19.