It was another split-weekend for the No. 5 UConn field hockey team as they were able to shutout Big East rival Villanova at home before dropping a tough matchup with No. 1 North Carolina.
UConn (12-3, 5-0 Big East) dominated Villanova (6-8, 2-3 Big East) when they welcomed the Wildcats to the George J. Sherman Family Sports Complex Friday afternoon.
It was all Huskies from very early on as Jessica Dembrowski scored her sixth goal of the season just past the six minute mark in the game. She would later add her seventh goal on the year with Abby Gooderham assisting on both goals.
Gooderham would also score a goal of her own in this one along with Svea Boker, Antonia Tiedtke and Lindsay Dickinson – the first of her collegiate career. Amanda Collins and Tiedtke were both credited with assists on Gooderham’s score.
Dembrowski said she treated her two goal performance “just like every game” and emphasized that the game at hand is what most important. The sophomore’s two goals both came on penalty corners, an area where UConn is very efficient.
The first five penalty corners for the Huskies resulted in scores, something that head coach Nancy Stevens noted as an important element for the remainder of the season.
“We’re really thrilled with the corner execution today,” Stevens said. “Scoring on the first five [penalty corner attempts] is a huge positive going forward.”
Cheyenne Sprecher stopped five shots on net en route to UConn’s seventh shutout of the year.
“I really feel that it was a great all-around effort. The important thing is [to] get the shutout,” Stevens said on the win. “Going forward, especially when you’re looking at postseason, the team with the best defense is gonna win. So getting the shutout is very important for our long-term goals and also in postseason, corner execution is critically important.”
The Huskies knew they were going into a tough neutral-site matchup against No. 1 UNC (15-0, 6-0 ACC) in Newton, Massachusetts, but they were not deterred. UConn had previously lost to two top-five teams in Maryland and Princeton.
“Well we’re playing the number one team but that doesn’t mean anything. It could be anyone’s day and we’ve been preparing for this all season and treat it like any other game,” Dembrowski said.
“We couldn’t be more excited to play the number one team and see how we measure up,” Stevens added.
The Huskies were tested early and played a large portion of this game from behind after the Tar Heels scored at the 11:27 mark off of a penalty corner. This would be the lone goal in the first half for either side.
Penalty corners remained a strength for UConn as Kourtney Kennedy scored her first career goal on a corner just past the 43-minute mark. Antonia Tiedtke and Svea Boker assisted on the corner score.
The tie would only last four minutes before UNC notched their second, and ultimately game-winning goal on a rebound. North Carolina out-shot Connecticut 16-9 and held a 7-3 advantage on penalty corners.
The Huskies wouldn’t go down easy, fighting through the last 15 minutes and even pulled goalkeeper Sprecher with four minutes to play. Sprecher had seven saves, four in the first half and an impressive diving save with a stick block.
“I know our players are going to play hard for 70 minutes and the great thing about this is it’s not the last game of the season,” Stevens said in anticipation of the matchup. “So what you’re talking from it, win or lose, is you’re taking valuable experience of playing the top team and again, that prepares you for conference play.”
Unfortunately for UConn, this will serve as a big learning experience instead of a big ‘W’ in the win column. The Huskies now move to 5-3 on the year against top-25 opponents.
UConn will face two more top-25 teams the next time they take the field. The Huskies will welcome No. 19 Liberty to Storrs on Thursday (6 p.m.) before they head to Boston to play No. 24 Boston University on Sunday (1 p.m.).
Kevin Arnold is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.