Field Hockey’s one goal: a final Sunday

Wake Forest Head Coach Jen Averill has one goal for her team: play on Sundays


Wake Forest goalkeeper Tori Glaister sprawls to make a foot-save.

Essex Thayer, Sports Editor

North Carolina sends an errant shot wide of the net. The second the ball crosses the out-of-bounds line, the ball-boy races to give a new ball to the Demon Deacons, who have just enough time to mount one final attack. There are 20 seconds left on the clock, and Wake Forest is trailing the No. 9 Tar Heels 1-0.

20 seconds, the ball moves past the defensive third towards a Deacon in the middle of the field. 19, 18, 17, Wake Forest turns to run up the field. 16, 15, 14, a pass is played down the right sideline, a Hail Mary. 13, 12, 11, the ball continues to roll towards a waiting Demon Deacon near the final third. 10, 9, 8, the ball turns. 7. It rolls out-of-bounds.

The ball is North Carolina’s, and there is little time left. The clock dwindles, and the horn sounds. Black and gold-clad players drop their heads and fall to the ground. Wake Forest had, once again, lost a Friday night heartbreaker.

When the buzzer sounded, one Demon Deacon did not drop. She didn’t even seem to react. When all was lost, Wake Forest Head Coach Jen Averill paused her pacing on the sideline, shook her head and resolutely turned to meet North Carolina Head Coach Karen Shelton at midfield in an embrace.

A loss like this to North Carolina would likely shake most coaches, but not Averill. This is not her first time experiencing a tough loss, nor is it her second or third. Averill has been at Wake Forest for 30 years and has lost 208 times.

But, Averill has also won 389 times. She started coaching at Wake Forest in 1992, and it didn’t take long for her to make an impact on the program, which had never reached the NCAA tournament prior to her arrival.

Within two years of her arrival, Wake Forest was ranked. In 1999, the Demon Deacons made their first NCAA tournament.

From there, Averill has never looked back. Wake Forest has now won four ACC Championships and reached 17 NCAA Tournaments and 10 semifinals. From 2002 to 2004, Wake Forest pulled off the unthinkable, winning three straight national championships.

Triumphs like that don’t come easily. There must be a special culture, and Averill promotes that. In a meeting before their matchup against North Carolina, she spoke on “CPR”, a set of maxims that her teams rely on. “C” for character, “P” for process and “R” for results.

Averill’s teams must embody those three qualities to win, and she expects nothing less.

“We put a premium on our character,” Averill said. “We’re going to be invested in the process, which is a grind. Nobody’s pulling out a violin [for us]. You have a choice. You can still chase it, we still [have] games left. The results will happen in your favor, but you [have] to work for it. That’s why we’re at Wake Forest.”

The process played out on the field on Friday against North Carolina. From the outset, Wake Forest played fast and hard. Instead of sitting back and letting the Tar Heels dictate the game, the Deacons took hold of the steering wheel, controlling most of the possession in the offensive third.

But, just as much as Wake Forest pushed, North Carolina pushed back. When the Deacons were in the offensive zone, the Tar Heels closed down on the ball, consistently neutralizing any scoring threats.

Something had to change, and unfortunately for Wake Forest, it was North Carolina that made the adjustment. After making another defensive stop, the Tar Heels forged ahead into the Wake Forest zone. Following a big save from the Deacons’ goalkeeper, Tori Glaister, the Tar Heels kept their foot on the gas pedal by retaining possession.

Within a minute, the dam broke. In the twelfth minute of the game, sophomore back Ciana Riccardo found just enough space within the penalty circle to turn and rifle the ball into the back of the net.

Over the next 48 minutes, the Wake Forest defense stood tall to keep the deficit at one. Glaister made eight saves in the game, her most of the season. But, North Carolina stood tall as well. Every time the Demon Deacons entered the offensive third, the Tar Heels suffocated the attack. At the end of the day, North Carolina was just too good.

Despite the loss, the season goes on. 40 hours after the North Carolina game, Wake Forest defeated Davidson in convincing fashion, 5-0.

There is much still unwritten in the Demon Deacons season. Each team makes the ACC tournament — in field hockey, every team has a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Averill understands this. She’s been here before.

“In 2018, we had a similar path as we’re having right now,” Averill said. “My plan as a [coach] is to play on Sundays. That’s etched in our locker room. If you play on Sundays, you’re playing for an ACC championship, and you’re playing for a national championship. Are we good enough to win a national championship? I don’t know that yet.”

A loss to North Carolina hurts, but this season isn’t over yet. The goal: play on Sunday. Until that Sunday, Averill and her team will keep on marching.