St. Joe’s field hockey proved this week that it won’t be intimidated by any opponent.
The Hawks defeated the three-time defending national champion and No. 4 North Carolina Tar Heels, 3-2, at an electric Ellen Ryan Field last Friday, and followed it up by beating No. 8 Rutgers, 2-1. The pair of wins marked the first time in school history that the field hockey team had beaten two top 10 teams in a single season, and catapulted the Hawks to No. 9 in the NFHCA Division I Coaches Poll, the highest ranking in school history.
It’s a program-defining moment head coach Lynn Farquhar has been working toward since arriving on Hawk Hill eight years ago.
“What’s so neat is you just see the work that our former Hawks have put in for us to even get to this stage,” Farquhar said.
“So, for us to have an ACC win over UNC who has a tremendous team and program. I mean, you look at their records, it’s outstanding,” Farquhar added, underselling the fact that North Carolina had amassed a combined 65-1 record over the three previous seasons.
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The Tar Heels haven’t been a friendly foe to St. Joe’s in recent years either. In 2017, the Hawks were blown out 4-0 in the first round of the NCAA Championships at the hands of the Tar Heels. Two years later, the Hawks put up a valiant fight, but ultimately suffered a 3-2 double-overtime heartbreak in Chapel Hill.
Junior midfielder Katy Benton was an 18-year-old freshman when the Hawks took on North Carolina in 2019.
“I remember that game so well, losing in double overtime sucks, especially taking it that far into the game with a team like UNC. So, we really wanted to get revenge from that game, and it really inspired us,” Benton said.
Farquhar has constructed a team that combines motivated veterans with many new faces, and Friday it was enough to finally get over the hump.
“[Benton’s] leadership is one of those key components,” Farquhar said. “And that’s something we talk about a lot, is trying to feed off that. So, from two years ago I think it set the stage for us to know that we could compete at this level, but we needed something to drop, we needed a finishing piece.”
That finishing piece on Friday was junior-transfer Freke van Tilburg from the Netherlands. Van Tilburg scored twice against North Carolina, her second the game-winner from a penalty corner with just 3 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game off an assist from Benton.. Even in the spotlight, van Tilburg kept a team-first mentality.
“I’m so proud. This team has so much potential, and yeah, we got it,” said van Tilburg, who won both Atlantic 10 offensive player and NFHCA player of the week for her efforts.
Going up against North Carolina also meant lining up against Erin Matson, the two-time defending National player of the year. Luckily for the Hawks, Benton knows a thing or two about Matson.
“I actually played against her club my entire youth. We knew [van Tilburg and I] had to be aware of her on the field,” said Benton.
Matson carried the Tar Heels with two goals. But that wasn’t enough as the Hawks’ defense put together their best effort of the season by limiting North Carolina to a season-low seven shots. The defensive effort was led by graduate-student Nicole Fenton. Fenton was menacing on defense, preventing Matson from consistently getting the looks she’s accustomed to seeing.
“[Fenton] really stepped it up that game,” Benton said. “She had so many intercepts and I was just so proud of her overall intensity that game. She really gave it to [Matson].”
Along with two assists against North Carolina, Benton delivered a fine defensive performance herself, winning A-10 defensive player of the week, as the Hawks swept the conference’s weekly awards.
Just to prove the upset was no fluke, the Hawks followed up the North Carolina win by beating eighth-ranked Rutgers on Sunday for their second top-10 win in 48 hours.The tough schedule is no coincidence, according to Farquhar.
“That is what makes our program special. All of our young women come in and they’re willing to take a risk and think bigger. So, we are all in,” Farquhar said.
“We love having tough opponents coming into the A-10. It really prepares us well,” Benton added.
At the moment, confidence is at an all-time high on Hawk Hill.
“I think we have had a great season already. Good preparation, and we keep fighting and we’re getting stronger and stronger,” van Tilburg said.
Farquhar continues to press her team to keep expanding on the idea of how good they can be.
“We say, find a way, win the moment. And they’re starting to make that happen,” said Farquhar.
Up next, St. Joe’s heads out on a season-long four-game road trip that includes two Big 5 matchups against Penn and Temple, ahead of their Atlantic 10 opener at VCU.