Sizzling squad looks to score seventh, eighth straight wins
No. 5 Cavaliers host Yale Saturday, No. 19 New Hampshire Sunday
This weekend, the surging No. 5 Virginia women’s field hockey team seeks to build on its six-game winning streak with another pair of wins at home.
The Cavaliers (11-2, 2-0 ACC) will look to protect their blue turf against two opponents, Yale and No. 19 New Hampshire, whose rosters are colored with more unknowing green than sagacious gray.
Coach Michele Madison’s resurgent Cavaliers have already won three more games than last season, and the players fully recognize the importance of the squad’s veteran experience in achieving the sudden turnaround — Virginia’s roster features five seniors and nine juniors.
In last weekend’s wins against 2011 NCAA champion Maryland and St. Joseph’s, a duo of seniors, midfielder Michelle Vittese and forward Paige Selenski, scored seven of Virginia’s nine goals to carry their team to a landmark upset and follow-up win, respectively.
“Our senior players have been pushing us a lot more during games,” sophomore midfielder Jess Orrett said. “They’ve been pulling us up. When they come on the field, they’re a great influence and they carry the rest of the team.”
Saturday’s contest against Yale (3-6, 1-2 Ivy League) will provide Virginia’s veterans with another chance to lead by example. As the regular season moves into its final month, the Cavaliers are aiming to extend their season-best six-game winning streak and continue building toward their postseason goals.
Virginia’s high ranking and recent run of success, however, are not likely to intimidate Yale. The Bulldogs’ last five games included matchups with No. 1 Syracuse, No. 3 Connecticut, and No. 4 Princeton. Though the Bulldogs did not keep pace with those powerhouses, allowing 16 goals and scoring none, they gained the big-game experience so valued by the Cavaliers.
“Yale is competitive,” Madison said. “They’ve had a good schedule. They’ve played some really good teams, and they hang with every team they play. It’s going to be about us putting a game plan together that we stick to.”
The Bulldogs have been shut out six times this season, and no Yale player is the author of more than two goals. But they are not the overmatched opponent their record might indicate. Under the guidance of coach Pam Stuper, the Bulldogs have increased their season goal total in each of the past six years. Last season, the improved production contributed to a co-Ivy League Championship with Princeton.
No matter the result of its game against Yale, Virginia will need to recover quickly. Sunday, the Cavaliers play New Hampshire (5-5, 1-0 America East) .
“When you have back-to-back games, you have to try to prepare for both at once,” Madison said. “We need to get a rhythm going and some attack going that we can just build on for UNH.”
New Hampshire’s recent results could be described as draining, wacky or both. Each of the Wildcats’ past four games concluded with a 3-2 final score, and every one but the last was decided in double overtime. That contest, a 3-2 loss to No. 18 Drexel, still required one extra session.
The Wildcats have played well against some of the country’s best teams. New Hampshire lost to No. 1 Syracuse by a single goal Sept. 7. Two weeks later, they took No. 3 Connecticut to double overtime before losing. In the interim, the team edged No. 8 Northeastern. The score of all three games: 3-2.
The Wildcats are led by junior forward Hannah Richard, redshirt freshman forward Meg Flatley, sophomore midfielder Kellie Joyce and junior back Megan Bozek. The four players have combined for 25 goals and 10 assists this season. None, however, finds herself in the final months of her college career like several of Virginia’s star players.
Virginia’s Vittese is nearing the end of an illustrious career, and her recent play has shown a desire to go out on a high note. The midfielder scored four goals on four shots in the wins against St. Joseph’s and Maryland, and her interception of a Terrapin pass in the final 15 minutes of the Maryland game set up Selenski’s game-deciding score. Vittese’s play earned her ACC Player of the Week honors.
“It’s definitely well deserved,” Madison said. “To take four shots and score four goals is pretty amazing. She does a lot of work that’s not noticed, so it was nice that she was recognized.”
If Virginia is to continue its strong play, the team will need contributions from players both young and old. This weekend’s back-to-back games will provide an opportunity for the Virginia lineup to show its depth.
“It’s tough for us because of the style we play,” Madison said. “We’re going to need everyone to chip in and get the job done. We have to prepare for postseason play. That’s why it’s scheduled now — to get used to playing two games back-to-back and being able to put your best out there in both games.”
If Madison’s words hint at meaningful elimination games in Virginia’s future, her players admit no knowledge of them. Amid success few Virginia teams have known — the win against the Maryland was the program’s first in 11 years — the players insist on focusing on the task immediately at hand.
“We really can’t get focused on the rankings,” sophomore forward Rachel Sumfest said. “We’re just trying to think about one game at a time and keep pushing forward. I think with the way we’re playing, especially after the Maryland game, we can see that we’re coming together and that we have what it takes to be at the top.”