Sports, Fall, Field Hockey

ACC Championship Preview: Eagles Aim to Snap Stretch of First Round Exits

It’s been a year of firsts for Boston College field hockey, and on Thursday afternoon, the Eagles will aim to continue that trend. No. 9 BC (11-6, 4-2 Atlantic Coast) registered a program-best four wins in conference play and finished above .500 in the conference under head coach Kelly Doton for the first time in her tenure, earning her ACC Coach of the Year honors. Margo Carlin, the ACC Freshman of the Year, racked up 39 points—the most by a freshman in program history.. Carlin also joined her teammate Fusine Govaert on the All-ACC First Team, marking the first time since 2007 that the program landed a pair of players on the list.

The accolades only continued, with Sky Caron landing on the second team, and goaltender Sarah Dwyer piling up weekly honors down the stretch as she ranks second nationally in goals against average. Now, the Eagles have won seven of their last eight games and enter the ACC Tournament brimming with confidence. Historically, BC has struggled mightily—it’s 1-15 and has lost in the first round each of the last three years—but this is clearly the best team it’s had to make some noise. As the two seed, BC is the highest it has ever been, and it has a clear path to a potential title game appearance on its own home field. 

Here’s how that could happen for Doton and Co., despite the field boasting six ranked teams.

Quarterfinals: No. 21 Wake Forest (Thursday, Nov. 7, 2:30 p.m.)

All the Eagles have to do to advance—and get their first win in the ACC Championship since 2015—is beat a top-25 team right off the bat. BC has already taken down the Demon Deacons this season, slipping by 2-0 in Winston-Salem. Brigid Wood and Carlin tallied on either side of halftime, and the Eagles hung on, regardless of the fact that they were outshot, 11-10, and doubled up in penalty corners, 8-4. Jonna Kennedy had six saves in that game before being benched for Sarah Dwyer three games later, and BC’s defense has improved since then. This should be a win for the Eagles, and it helps that Wake Forest enters winless in conference play—and hasn’t lost by less than two goals in those six games.

Semifinals: No. 4 Virginia or No. 5 Duke (Friday, Nov. 8, 3:30 p.m.)

The path immediately gets difficult, with either the Cavaliers or Blue Devils next on tap. Directly adjacent to each other in the national polls, both UVA and Duke would be formidable opponents. BC managed to take both matchups with these teams in the regular season, and the two games bookended the team’s best play of the year. In the first week of October, the Eagles shored up their defense and upset the Cavaliers, winning a 1-0 thriller despite entering allowing almost three goals per game. Then, in the regular season finale, BC replicated that feat against the Blue Devils, using a clutch goal from Govaert to win a similarly dramatic 1-0 matchup.

As you can probably tell, the margins will be razor thin for BC. Getting past Wake Forest won’t be a walk in the park, but having one of two top-five opponents waiting for you in the second round—even with home field advantage—is a difficult turn of events. Plus, it’ll be a quick turnaround, with the second round being played the day after. If the Eagles beat the Demon Deacons, they’ll likely be hoping that Duke and UVA play a physical, draining game. Neither team is easy to crack, with the Cavaliers ranked second in the conference in defense, and the Blue Devils one slot behind at No. 3. 

Championship: No. 1 North Carolina or No. 6 Louisville or No. 12 Syracuse (Sunday, Nov. 10, 11 a.m.)

This would be unprecedented territory for BC as a program, as it’d mean back-to-back wins in as many days. The Eagles would likely only continue to climb in the polls and further lock up a good draw in the NCAA Tournament, and could cap it off with the first ACC title in program history. Any of the three potential opponents would be very tough draws, as the Eagles lost to both UNC and Louisville in the regular season and needed a late stunner from Carlin to beat Syracuse.

Overall, this is the Tar Heels’ championship to lose, as they enter the bracket a perfect 17-0 on the year. UNC, the unanimous top-ranked team in the country, leads the conference in offense (4.0 goals per game) and defense (1.0 goal per game). It’ll face either the Cardinals or the Orange in the semifinals and will feel plenty confident: It beat Louisville, 4-1, and Syracuse by a similar 3-1 margin. If BC gets to the title game and the Tar Heels are waiting, though, you can expect a good game. The Eagles are likely eager to avenge the regular season defeat in which they held a 1-0 lead in the second half, tied it up at 2-2, and then lost on a 57th minute goal. 

Five of the six games will be broadcasted on the ACC Network, while Friday’s late afternoon game will be available on ACCNX.

Featured Image by Nicholas Newbold / For The Heights

November 7, 2019