No. 3 Northwestern 13, No. 1 North Carolina 9
When the schedule was announced in December, No. 3 Northwestern certainly circled a date on his calendar — March 19 against No. 1 North Carolina.
After a month of action at the start of the season, that fateful day had finally arrived.
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s team hosted the defending national champions at Ryan Fieldhouse on Sunday for a grudge match in the semifinals of last season’s NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats (8-1,1-0 Big Ten) handed the Tar Heels (7-1, 4-0 ACC) their first regular season loss in 1,149 days.
Sophomore midfielder Samantha Smith controlled the opening draw, allowing NU to fire off three shots on their first possession. Despite constant offensive pressure from the Cats, North Carolina goaltender Alecia Nichols held the stalemate with four saves midway through the first period.
After 14 minutes of scoreless play, sophomore midfielder Emerson Bohlig beat Nichols on an unassisted scoreline to break the deadlock. Graduate student Hailey Rhatigan then fired a shot from free position and fired her signature left counterstep into the top right corner, settling a 2-0 NU lead.
Graduate midfielder Elle Hansen opened the second period with a powerful eight-yard conversion, but Tar Heel forward Caroline Godine responded 40 seconds later, closing the gap to 3-1.
Just when the Cats needed a spark, grad student forward Izzy Scane fended off a tight marking to score her first goal of the afternoon. Just 33 seconds later, Scane struck again from an almost impossible angle, giving NU a 5-1 advantage.
Senior forward Erin Coykendall also had some fun, scoring a lethal score with 8:55 left in the second quarter. Godine responded two minutes later.
The two teams then traded goals, as Scane completed her hat trick before North Carolina midfielder Alyssa Long scored at the other end.
As four minutes approached, Scane offered a prayer to his attacking ally Coykendall. From there, the senior rose to grab the high pass and sank breathtakingly behind the back. Tar Heel forward Marrisa White closed out the first-half scoring from close range, and the Cats held on to an 8-4 halftime advantage.
Rhatigan dominated the flow of play after intermission, scoring back to back to complete a hat trick and give NU a six goal lead.
However, North Carolina then picked up momentum. The Tar Heels held the Cats scoreless for the final 9:43 of the third period, tallying back-to-back scores to settle a 10-6 NU lead with 15 minutes left.
The Tar Heels drew first blood in the last frame, as forwards Reilly Casey and Kiley Mottice each found the net to cut the deficit to two goals in nearly two minutes.
When it looked like history was doomed to repeat itself, Scane and senior forward Dylan Amonte canceled out North Carolina’s lead with a pair of power scores.
Freshman midfielder Madison Taylor and Godine traded the final two counts of the game, and the Cats held on to break the Tar Heels’ 47-game regular-season winning streak in a 13-9 win.
Here are three takeaways from NU’s home win over North Carolina.
Take away food :
1. Defenses reign supreme early
Two of the nation’s elite offenses lined up at opposite ends of the turf – most anticipating an offensive barn burner.
Still, it was the defenses that stole the show, as neither side found room to run and shoot early. Although Tar Heel defenseman Brooklyn Walker-Welch missed Sunday’s game with an injury, North Carolina was able to follow the Cats for most of the game.
While the Cats found plenty of first looks, Nichols set up a clinic between the pipes. North Carolina kept Scane from settling into the contest, facing the guard and teaming up with Tewaraaton’s favorite at every turn.
Junior midfielder Kendall Halpern and second-year midfielder and defender Samantha White led a stingy NU defense. They held North Carolina’s high-flying offense in check throughout the first frame, closing windows of fire and forcing a flurry of turnovers.
Bohling and Rhatigan opened the fight in the last minute of the period, but few would have expected a two-goal first period.
2. Draw crucial controls for the Cats first half display
The Tar Heels pride themselves on dominating draw checks. Games can be won and lost in the draw circle, and the first 30 minutes of action were largely settled in midfield.
Amonte Hiller’s draw team proved particularly effective in the first quarter, winning the draw on three occasions.
The 9-2 second-half draw advantage fueled NU’s attacking exploits. Led by Smith’s dominant performance inside the draw circle, the Cats retained possession of the ball for most of the period and took an 8-4 lead at halftime.
3. Scane and Rhatigan rally a brave victory
NU built their seven-goal lead in last year’s semi-finals on the back of striker Lauren Gilbert and midfielder Jill Girardi, who combined for eight scores.
With the top-scoring duo being dropped from the schedule, the Cats needed more scorers to take their place on Sunday.
Enter Scane and Rhatigan.
Scane missed the previous game with a torn ACL, and Rhatigan donned the black and orange Mercer at that time.
The pair provided a deadly combination of speed and power that the Tar Heels could only hope to keep quiet.
Rhatigan’s last-minute goal in the first quarter sparked a NU goalscoring frenzy. She and Scane each had over three goals and were building up an insurmountable margin.
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