DURHAM, N.C. — UNC's defense was the hero Friday evening as the top-ranked Tar Heels earned a 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference field hockey win over fourth-ranked Duke on the Blue Devils' home turf. Playing at Williams Field at Jack Katz Stadium, Carolina improved to 8-0 overall and 2-0 in conference play with the win. Duke fell to 6-3 (1-1 ACC).
The victory in Durham was UNC's fifth shutout of the season and third in a row. The Tar Heels have allowed just three goals all fall and only one in the past six games.
Duke got off just nine shots Friday and didn't have a penalty corner in the first half. In the second, the Blue Devils got five corners but UNC was able to thwart them all. "I thought we defended penalty corners particularly well," Shelton said.
The Tar Heels scored a goal in each half, both as the result of heads-up play. The gamewinner came in the 23rd minute, when sophomore Eva Smolenaars sent a ball into the circle from the left side and junior Catherine Hayden swatted it out of the air and into the cage for her seventh goal of the fall.
The second was after halftime, on penalty corner in the 56th minute. After UNC's first two shots were saved, freshman Erin Matson grabbed a loose ball at the left post and put it back for a two-goal lead. She also has seven goals this season, tied for the team lead with Hayden and senior Ashley Hoffman.
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"I'm pleased with the scrappiness inside," Shelton said. "The first goal was somewhat spectacular, and the second one was more digging and gutting and finding a way to stick it in the back of the goal. I'm proud of the girls."
Amanda Hendry, the Tar Heels' sophomore goalkeeper, made a season-high five saves and squelched several additional Duke opportunities. After the game she credited the job the UNC defense did in front of her, particularly noting sophomore Courtnie Williamson's penalty corner efforts.
Shelton was pleased with the job that Hendry, the recipient of last season's Most Improved Player Award, did against UNC's highest-ranked opponent thus far this fall. "I thought she played well," Shelton said. "She smothered some opportunities. I'll credit Jackie Briggs, our goalie coach. – I think our goalkeepers are more aggressive to the ball. For Amanda to have the confidence to come out and smother those balls is a direct result of Jackie's coaching."
Postgame interviews 🎤 pic.twitter.com/cmC707KvZv— UNC Field Hockey (@UNCFieldHockey) September 21, 2018
Briggs, who recently retired from the U.S. National Team, was a two-time NCAA Champion at UNC. She joined the staff in August as the team's volunteer assistant coach.
The 8-0 start is UNC's best since 2013, when the Tar Heels lost in their ninth game of the year. The last time the Tar Heels opened with a better streak was 2010, when they started 16-0 with Briggs, then known as Jackie Kintzer, as the starting keeper.
UNC had not beaten Duke in Durham since 2014, before any of the current players were on the team.
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"I'm absolutely delighted to win this game on Duke's home field," Shelton said. "They had an awesome crowd and they really gave us a hard-fought game. I thought both teams played hard and it was somewhat physical, as the Duke game always is."
The rivals will meet once more in the regular season, in a non-conference game in Chapel Hill on Oct. 21.
Next up for UNC is a midweek make-up game against Virginia. The Tar Heels will host the Cavaliers on Wednesday at noon at Carolina Field Hockey Stadium to kick off a four-game homestand that includes three ACC matchups.