Field Hockey splits marquee matchups
No. 4 Virginia falls to top-ranked North Carolina before rebounding against No. 13 Northwestern
The No. 4 Virginia hockey team split a pair of weekend matches against two highly ranked opponents, falling to No. 1 North Carolina 2-1 Friday before defeating No. 13 Northwestern by the same score Sunday. Friday’s defeat was the first for the Cavaliers this season.
Virginia (8-1, 0-1 ACC) matched up well against North Carolina (8-0, 1-0 ACC) in a game that came down to the wire, but the Tar Heel defense proved too much for the Cavaliers to conquer. A late goal by Tar Heel junior forward Charlotte Craddock sealed the result.
“We gave them a good fight,” senior forward Elly Buckley said. “They only beat us by one goal and it was a really close game the entire time. We’re really proud of our team, but there are a lot of things we need to do [to improve].”
The Cavalier offense started off relatively sluggish given its high-energy track record, but the defense did its part to keep Virginia in the game. North Carolina first broke through with 16 minutes remaining in the first half when sophomore forward Emma Bozek found senior forward Sinead Loughran for an open shot midway inside the circle.
“We were able to play a really aggressive first half defensive, but we weren’t able to get our attack going like we did in the second half,” coach Michele Madison said. “We were able to possess the ball more and control the ball better in the midfield [in the second half].”
The Cavaliers were fortunately able to find a tying goal with less than two minutes remaining in the half. On a break away from the midfield, senior forward Hadley Bell launched a ball into the circle from the right corner to find freshman forward Riley Tata posted up on the left side of the net for an easy tap in.
“The ball was suddenly behind the defense, so we just slipped it and it hit my stick and went in,” Tata said. “It was a great pass from Hadley — it was perfect.”
The Cavaliers came out from the break looking much more alive, but were only able to battle the Tar Heels to a stalemate for the first 30 minutes of the half. With five minutes remaining in the game, Craddock scored her game-winner with no Cavalier answer to come.
“Every game is like this; every game is a tough game,” Tata said. “I’m sad we lost but we’re going to get them next time. They were a great team, but we played awesome as well.”
Cavalier junior goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone finished the game with seven saves, while her Tar Heel counterpart, junior Sassi Ammer, tallied just two.
Virginia was able to bounce back against the Wildcats (8-2) Sunday, giving the Cavaliers their fourth win of the year against a team that is currently ranked. Northwestern entered Charlottesville riding an eight-game winning streak, including a victory against No. 9 Duke just two days earlier.
“This was a really big and a really tough game coming off the loss,” Bell said. “We knew we had to do something big to get back and keep moving forward. It was really awesome to win and be able to pull it together in the end.”
Virginia scored first in the game on a successful penalty stroke from senior back Carissa Vittese after Northwestern fouled freshman forward Caleigh Foust on a Virginia breakaway. The 1-0 Cavalier lead would hold for the remainder of the half with the help of strong defensive play by Virginia.
“I really think that our defense is going from strength to strength right now,” Johnstone said. “We’re working on it a lot and working as a unit rather than individually. Northwestern was a tough game — they’ve got a great offensive unit, so our defense did absolutely great.”
Early in the second half, Northwestern tied the game on a penalty corner. Senior forward Nikki Parsley took the shot from the top of the circle and scored. After more than 20 minutes of scoreless play, Bell found Foust in front of the net for the freshman’s eighth goal of the season with just more than five minutes remaining in the game.
“Elly had the ball on the left side and she likes the big hits,” Bell said. “I knew I had to run, get in position and get a deep lead. Then I saw Caleigh waiting in position in front of the goal, so I just hit it to her and she tipped in it.”
With two minutes remaining, the Wildcats pulled their goalkeeper to no avail, clinching the first Northwestern loss since Aug. 30.
“It was great to muscle our way through that one — that’s exactly what we had to do,” Madison said. “It was a blue collar game and we just had to deal with the physicality of it and still make it our game. We were able to do that today.”
Virginia outshot the Wildcats, 16-10 and took the edge in penalty corners by an 8-4 margin. Johnstone tallied four saves in the game.
Virginia will host James Madison (5-3) Wednesday.