Field Hockey improves to 2-0
Cavaliers handle Louisville, No. 6 Penn State at home for best start since 2010
Any worries about the No. 7 Virginia field hockey team’s potential after the graduation of Olympians Michelle Vittese and Paige Selenski were quickly erased this weekend as the Cavaliers earned a pair of convincing wins against two talented opponents.
The Cavaliers (2-0) opened up the year with a 3-2 win against Louisville, who was pegged to finish third in the Big East, and followed up that performance with a 4-2 victory against No. 6 Penn State Sunday. Senior forward Elly Buckley led the Cavaliers offensively with three goals and one assist in the two games, but more surprisingly, freshmen accounted for three of Virginia’s seven goals.
“They’re playing awesome,” Buckley said of the freshmen. “They’re doing what they need to do and they have fresh legs to come in when us older girls get tired.”
Of the massive nine-athlete freshman class, seven have received playing time and three have earned starts. Forwards Riley Tata and Caleigh Foust have contributed goals while midfielder Macy Peebles has added an assist. Despite their impressive statistical output, coach Michele Madison saw a lot of room for improvement.
“The first years did a great job, but they were out of structure,” Madison said after the Louisville game. “The upperclassmen really helped by staying to structure.”
It did not take long for the Cavaliers to get into a groove offensively against Louisville Friday as Virginia scored in the opening two minutes of regular season play. Buckley found Tata near the net, where the freshman was able to tap in the ball for her first career goal. Louisville answered quickly, however, when junior back Alyssa Voelmle scored unassisted. The 1-1 deadlock held until the end of the first half.
“For my goal, Elly [Buckley] did all the work,” Tata said. “I was on the post just hoping that some part of my stick would get the ball, and luckily it just tipped off and went in. All I could think was ‘Oh crap, oh crap, I hope I can get my stick on this.’”
Buckley broke the tie early in the second half on a play resulting from a penalty corner and Foust scored an insurance goal seven minutes later. Louisville was able to come within one with five minutes remaining in the contest, but was unable to muster any more successful attacks.
“It was nerve-wracking, but exciting at the same time,” Foust said of her first game. “I think in warm-ups we really got the hang of it as a team. When the game started we knew what we needed to do and it turned out well.”
The Cavaliers faced a more nationally renowned program in Penn State Sunday, but fared even better. The Nittany Lions put together a much stronger attack than the Cardinals did, but the Cavalier defense reigned strong, in no small part due to the efforts of goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone. The junior notched 13 saves while also serving as a leader on the field.
“Jenny did awesome and came out with some big saves,” junior back Kelsey LeBlanc said. “She really holds the backs together — you can hear her talking constantly throughout the game. She really came up big today.”
Virginia repeated its early-game success against Penn State, with Buckley scoring on a penalty corner just more than a minute into game. The Cavalier offense found similar success throughout the first half, but was unable to convert its opportunities and headed into the half leading by just one goal.
“I knew we were going to have to fight hard in that game every single minute,” Madison said. “Penn State is a team that wants every ball defensively and attack-wise. We had to match that and exceed it.”
After a 13-minute lull of scoreless play in the second half, Penn State tied the game on a penalty corner. The Cavaliers quickly took the lead back, however, when Buckley gained possession of the ball at midfield, dribbled into the circle and launched a shot directly past the Penn State goalkeeper. Less than three minutes later, Cavalier senior forward Hadley Bell added another goal off an assist from Peebles.
Trailing 3-1, Penn State mounted an impressive comeback attempt offensively, but the Cavalier defense and Johnstone held on, despite allowing one final goal with 10 minutes remaining. Tata then put the game away with her second career goal in the final two minutes of the game.
“I think our defense played really strong,” LeBlanc said. “We have a strong core back there. Today we all just communicated and worked off each other. We had really tight marking and I think we did really well staying composed and getting the ball out of the backfield.”
This is the first year that the Cavaliers have started 2-0 since 2010. They continue their 2013 campaign next weekend when they travel to Yale and No. 8 Old Dominion.