In the small yet competitive universe of North Carolina high school field hockey, the records seldom seem to matter whenever Chapel Hill and East Chapel Hill meet.
The two rivals split nine of the first 10 N.C. state championships between them, setting a high standard for any other programs that wanted to play at the same level.
Carrboro’s young program caught up this year, beating both East Chapel Hill (14-3) and Chapel Hill (11-3) once. But the two older programs still keep a special place in their hearts for each other.
Meeting Wednesday night at Culton-Peerman Stadium, Chapel Hill and East played a virtually dead-even match until Elizabeth Jensen scored what proved to be the only goal in a 1-0 Wildcat win.
“This is always a close game, and both teams played very well,” said Susan Taylor, head coach of East Chapel Hill.
“We had kind of bumpy start to this season, but we’ve come back and together and played much better.”
East Chapel Hill (14-3) got Wednesday’s game-winning score going with a re-start inside of Chapel Hill’s defensive third following a time-out. The Wildcats quickly worked the ball to the goal, where Elianna Goldstein banged a shot off of Chapel Hill goalkeeper Samantha Straughan. Before the CHHS keeper could clear the ball away from the goal mouth, Jensen stroked it in for the 1-0 lead.
“The ball just bounced off her pads right to an East player,” Chapel Hill coach Wendy Bennett said. “That was unfortunate. She had made a lot of great saves. But she’s a strong spirit and I think she’ll digest this and use the experience to her advantage.”
Jensen almost put East Chapel Hill ahead in the first 10 minutes of the game, positioning herself at the far post during a penalty corner and just missing a chance at the ball as it squirted across the goal mouth.
“I didn’t have my stick down, and the ball just got by me,” Jensen said. Her last chance at the ball was different.
“I saw it and just hit it on instinct,” she said. “I wasn’t even thinking. At first I wasn’t even sure I hit it in.”
Jensen said it meant a lot to the Wildcats to beat Chapel Hill for a third straight year.
“It means so much to come in and get the win and get some momentum going into the playoffs,” Jensen said. “It puts some fire in our belly.”
East Chapel Hill had lost two matches in a six-game stretch in midseason – not the norm for the five-time defending state champions – including a stunning 2-1 loss at home to Carrboro. The Wildcats answered that with a 1-0 double overtime win at Carrboro on Oct. 1, and Wednesday’s win was the Wildcats’ sixth straight.
“After we lost to Carrboro, we all got together for a meeting and said we never want to experience this feeling again,” said East’s Marissa Creatore.
Creatore and Jensen also noted that the Wildcats felt an even greater impetus to finish strong after having dedicated the season to Sophie Steiner, an East Chapel Hill player who died Aug. 30 after a battle with cancer.
“We don’t want to let down any of the players who’ve put so much into keeping this legacy going,” Jensen said. “We want to keep it going.”
“No one wants to be the team that gives it up,” said Creatore.
Notes: In a game preceding the varsity, the East JVs defeated Chapel Hill 2-1, with both Wildcat goals scored by Amy Smith, assisted by Kila Hancock and Caroline Hayter. … Chapel Hill has one match left in the regular season, hosting Carrboro on Monday in a rematch of their earlier meeting, won 2-1 by the Jaguars. … The state playoffs begin Oct. 28.