After capturing its first America East Field Hockey Championship last Sunday, No. 13 Stanford field hockey (14-5, 5-1 AEC) will head to College Park, Maryland, to take on No. 5 University of North Carolina (17-5, 3-4 ACC) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.
Stanford has not faced UNC this season; the most recent time these two teams matched up was in September 2012. North Carolina will be a new challenge, and the powerhouse program will certainly prove a strong test for the Cardinal. The Tar Heels have the all-time edge in head-to-head competition, winning twice in seven years against the Cardinal in NCAA Tournament play. UNC is coming off an ACC conference final loss against Virginia and will be eager to rebound.
But this entire season has been something of a successful rebound for the Cardinal.
After four losses in the first five games of the season, Stanford has steadily improved, posting only one other loss, on Oct. 16 against Pacific, and gaining momentum, going 13-for-14 to finish out the season.
“This season has been a progression,” senior defender Fran Tew said. “We have players who can play in many positions, so it’s been a process of learning the style and making mistakes. We have definitely improved near the end of the season.”
That improvement showed last weekend, when Stanford defeated UMass Lowell, Cal and Pacific to claim the America East Conference Championship. Timely goals proved golden for Stanford in closely fought games, and the Cardinal defense allowed just two goals in three tournament games.
Defense has been a staple for Stanford this season, and the tournament was no exception. Freshman goalkeeper Kelsey Bing recorded two shutouts in her first postseason, on the way to winning the title. Bing’s 1.08 goals-against average is ranked second in the nation, and the Stanford defense most recently held a typically high-scoring Pacific team scoreless in the final game of the tournament.
“We were all organized and working together as a unit on defense,” said Bing regarding the team’s recent success.
Stanford’s motto for the season is “Rise as One,” and team effort in all areas of play has been a major focus. In approaching UNC, that strategy will persist.
“Our teams are similar in structure and tactic, so it will be a battle to get one goal and then hold on,” Tew said. “If we can show up the day of the game and work together, we can defeat them.”
With confidence high and team chemistry clicking, Stanford has a chance to deliver an upset in its 15th NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
An underdog mentality? Perhaps not. As Tew put it, “No one deserves to beat us.”
Stanford will take on UNC in the NCAA Tournament first round this Saturday at 11 a.m. in College Park, Maryland. Live stats are available at GoStanford.com and on the NCAA Tournament website.
Contact Laura Anderson at lauraand ‘at’ stanford.edu.