The 2018 campaign for the University of North Carolina field hockey team was definitely a season that Cassie Sumfest will never forget.
The Lewisburg native and Green Dragons’ graduate played an integral role for the Tar Heels in their run to an undefeated 23-0 season and the 2018 national championship.
And even though it’s been more than a week since North Carolina defeated fellow Atlantic Coast Conference rival Maryland, 2-0, to result in the Tar Heel’s seventh national title in program history and third while going undefeated (the others came in 1995 and 2007), the moment still doesn’t feel real to Sumfest, a sophomore back.
“Winning the national title felt like a dream, and to this day it still feels surreal. We put so much hard work into the season that it still feels like we have to gear up for practice this week,” said Sumfest with a laugh during her trip back home to spend Thanksgiving with her family.
“But, even though we were playing a rival like Maryland we still looked at this game as another game. Yes, there was pressure put on us but this team has done such a great job at controlling the controllables and focusing on our game.”
The national title was the culmination of a lot of hard work by Sumfest and the rest of her teammates after North Carolina reached the national semifinals in each of the previous four years, only to come up empty each time.
“(The title) is so special for coach (Karen Shelton), and especially for this team, which has been to the final four the past four years, to finally bring it home,” said Sumfest. “We definitely thought this team had the capability of winning a national title. We all wanted the same thing and were hard workers. But, we all kept that thought in the back of our heads and focused on each game in front of us as they came.
“This year, our team really focused on team defense and I think that really played a key role in our success. The final game was a shut out and yes, scoring two goals led us to winning, but shutting them out secured the national title,” added Sumfest, who had a lot to do with all of those shutouts.
“Cassie has improved dramatically and is an important cog in the best defense in the nation. She’s solid and steady, plays on our corner defense, and is really good on the post. She’s an important piece of our team and we rely on her,” said UNC’s head coach.
Without a doubt, one of the highlights of the postseason for Sumfest came when she scored a goal in the 7-2 win over Wake Forest in the ACC final — with a broken finger and all.
In between the ACC final and the national final, UNC beat William & Mary 4-0, Michigan 5-2, and Wake Forest again, 4-1, in the final four.
“It was really exciting to contribute on the scoreboard for our win over Wake Forest (for the ACC title),” said Sumfest. “I was just coming off a week-long injury of a broken finger in which I was cleared to play with a splint. This on top of playing defense made it so much more special and exciting scoring a goal.”
Said coach Shelton, “We like to say we defend from the front and attack from the back. When we have the ball we think everyone should be capable of attacking. We want our players to make good decisions and Cassie did that — she was presented with an opportunity (to score), and she took it.”
The current run of success enjoyed by Sumfest is no surprise to those closest to her, and especially not to her former high school coach, Jessica Zeller.
“The school, players, and coaches are beyond proud. Since I began with the Lewisburg field hockey program, we have been fortunate to watch two former players, Cassie Sumfest and Maddie Scarr, win national championships: Cassie with UNC this year and Maddie with Shippensburg in 2016 and 2017,” said Zeller.
“Watching someone you know and care about reap the benefits of working so hard, and meeting their goals, is such a gift. Cassie has so many people rooting for her — former teammates, coaches, classmates, friends, teachers, the school’s administration. I hope she knows that even though she is no longer here, in Lewisburg, there are always people cheering for her.”
Zeller had the pleasure of seeing Sumfest play in person twice this year, but when the Tar Heels made the final the Green Dragons’ coach was glued to her computer just like a lot of other people in the Lewisburg area.
“I watched the final on my computer (that) weekend and, I’m not going to lie, got tearful when they won the national championship,” said Zeller, who foresaw Sumfest attaining such glory on the playing field back when she was simply just a Green Dragon.
“Cassie’s dreams were, and are, big. She has achieved something not many athletes have — an undefeated season and a national championship. It just doesn't get any better than that and Cassie is so deserving of it all. I couldn’t be happier for her, her team and her family.”
Twenty years from now, Sumfest will surely continue to look upon this past season fondly. But until that moment, there’s plenty of field hockey left to play for the Tar Heel — both on the collegiate level and the national level.
“I’m definitely going to look back and remember winning the national title with some of my best friends. As a team, we put in such hard work and loads of time in the offseason that paved the way for our successes,” said Sumfest.
“Now that the season is over I’m planning on trying out again for the U21 national team. I played with them abroad in Argentina this past summer in June, but I was unable to tryout in July for this year’s rotation because I had to partake in summer school. The tryout will probably take place before or after Christmas, so I’m setting my sights on that and finishing my finals strong.”