Virginia seeks undefeated home season
Cavaliers move Monday's game against Princeton to 3 p.m. today due to weather concerns
Sunday afternoon at Turf Field, the No. 7 Virginia field hockey team will look to place one final brick in a near-completed wall. This wall — the one that would mark the Cavaliers as undefeated at home in 2012 — now stands nine victories strong. Virginia’s final home opponent, the No. 2 Princeton Tigers, however, will do all in its power to make it crumble.
The Cavaliers (15-3, 4-1 ACC) moved its Monday game against Princeton to 3 p.m. Sunday due to anticipated inclement weather, but they are just as ready for a spirited Tigers’ challenge. Neither the team nor its coach, Michele Madison, believes Princeton (14-1, 6-0 Ivy League) will simply acquiesce to Virginia’s blueprint for an untarnished home season.
“We’ve played them the last few years now,” Madison said. “It’s always fast paced and down to the wire—it’s like a track meet. I anticipate it will be the same Monday night.”
Both Madison and her players, moreover, understand this game to be only partly about the protection of their home field. The Cavaliers long-term design—one shared by adversaries like the Tigers—reaches beyond Turf Field.
“Princeton is definitely going to be some good competition,” junior back Katie Robinson said. “They had two girls who were on the Olympic team and two additional girls that also trained with the team…It’s going to be key for us to come out with a win, not only to host NCAAs, but also to get momentum going into the postseason.”
Princeton has won its past seven games, including a 4-1 home victory Oct. 21 against then-undefeated Connecticut, now the country’s fourth-ranked team. The Tigers also reeled off seven wins to begin the season and bested ranked teams on the road in their first three games. Their only loss came at home, 2-0, versus No. 3 Syracuse, and Princeton is undefeated in six road games.
The Cavaliers’ results against teams of Princeton’s quality have been decidedly mixed. Virginia is 2-3 in games against teams currently ranked in the NCAA’s top ten, and in those five games, the Cavaliers have scored 14 goals and allowed 15. Madison, though, finds value in such competition.
“If you truly want to play for championships, you’ve got to prepare yourself with the best teams,” she said. “It’s tough not to get wrapped up in who you beat and who you didn’t beat; it’s more about how we’re playing and whether we’re confident in our play.”
As Virginia’s Robinson mentioned, four players in the Tiger’s starting lineup competed for the U.S. National team in 2011. Senior striker Kathleen Sharkey and junior striker Michelle Cesan—the team’s leading scorers, with 24 and eight goals, respectively—practiced alongside the women eventually selected to play in London. Among those Olympians were two of their Princeton teammates, senior midfielder Katie Reinprecht and junior midfielder Julia Reinprecht — masters in the art of the assist. The elder sister Reinprecht has recorded a team-leading 13 assists on the year; her younger counterpart is second with nine.
Virginia seniors Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese also played for last year’s Olympic team. Their experience bonded them to the former teammates they now face as opponents.
“You want to wish them the best, but at the same time you want to kick their butts,” Vittese said. “It’s one of those things that’s bittersweet.”
This game will be fraught with such mixed emotions for every Cavalier. It is senior day, the last day on which five Cavaliers—goalie Amanda Crider, forward Britt Knouse, back Paige Willis, forward Selenski, and midfielder Vittese—will compete for their school with the support of a home crowd.
“My biggest motivation for this game is winning the last game I may ever play on this field,” Vittese said. “I’m really excited because I’m almost finished, but at the same time it’s going to be hard having my last home game. Going away with a win would be the best thing that could possibly happen.”
This Turf is the Cavaliers’ to protect. They intend to do so Sunday.
“Obviously you always want to win at home,” Robinson said. “You’re defending your school and your turf—you don’t want anyone to shame you on your field. It would be awesome if we finished here perfect.”