A crowd of over 200 milled around the Jonathan statue outside Gampel Pavilion on Wednesday morning. All eyes were on the UConn field hockey team as they took in their last moments on campus before departing for the Final Four in Louisville, Kentucky.
It was a send-off worthy of a team that has yet to lose this season and is about to fight for the program’s fifth national championship title this weekend.
“It’s a terrific way to let our team know they have the support of the university community,” said head coach Nancy Stevens of the team’s farewell rally.
The 21-0 Huskies have been the best team in Division I for the majority of the season, being ranked No. 1 in the nation since September 12. The Huskies were the highest-scoring team in the nation, averaging 4.63 goals per game. Their defense also put opponents into physical and mental pretzels this season. Their .61 goals against average is the best in DI. This season, the Huskies were more likely to drop four goals on a team than let up a single goal.
“A team that wins every regular season game has met a myriad of challenges along the way,” said Stevens. “They have remained focused, played hard for each other and achieved a great deal along the way.”
When UConn and No. 4 North Carolina collide on Friday, the two will be fighting for pride as well as playoff survival. The two programs are the most storied in NCAA history in their sport, combining for 10 National Championships. Stevens and UNC head coach Karen Shelton own 1,306 career victories between them, ranking first and second in NCAA history, respectively.
The two teams have established plenty of records but they also share a history on the field.
This will be the third time in five seasons the Huskies and Tar Heels have met in the NCAA semifinals. UConn took round one in 2013 but UNC got revenge last year when they sent the Huskies home on a game-winning overtime goal by Lauren Moyer.
“We always look forward to playing good competition and we won our 2013 championship by beating UNC …,” said Stevens. “It looks to be our turn again.”
Gab Major, the Tar Heels’ only senior, leads UNC in points with eight goals and 13 assists. Amanda Hendry, sporting a .727 save percentage, 29th in the nation, backstops UNC in net.
The grudge match between UNC and UConn will begin at 2 p.m. on Friday. The winner will advance to face the winner of Michigan/Maryland in the national championship game on Sunday at 2 p.m. for the right to raise a banner.
Stevens has no intentions of going home empty-handed.
“We will do everything we can this weekend to be that team.”
Bryan Lambert is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.