No. 4 Virginia field hockey seeks faster start
Cavaliers host James Madison in midweek matchup
The No. 4 Virginia field hockey team held No. 1 North Carolina to just one goal for almost the entire game in last Friday’s marquee matchup, and it was only with five minutes remaining that the Tar Heels were able to break the tie, ending the Cavaliers’ seven-game win streak and undefeated season.
Virginia put up a strong fight at home against North Carolina, and if the team’s performance that night is any indication of what it takes to be one of the best in the country, the Cavaliers have it.
“We’re knocking at the door,” coach Michele Madison said. “The team prepared well. We just have to start out fast in our attack game and stick with what we do best.”
The Virginia offense started off slow, totaling only two shots to North Carolina’s nine in the first half. The Cavaliers continued to struggle to find the net in the second half as well, though they picked up the pace significantly. By the end of the game, the Tar Heels had outshot their hosts 13-5.
Despite the offensive struggles, however, the defense stepped up to keep Virginia’s upset hopes alive. Junior goalie Jenny Johnstone posted seven saves in a stellar outing.
“This weekend was really a test for us in the backfield, and I think we really stepped up to it,” Johnstone said. “Individually they have great players, but we were able to close down and work our game plan on theirs.”
Learning from the North Carolina loss, Virginia’s attack must come out prepared to play the full 70 minutes the rest of the season.
“We need to play every single minute and win every situation we’re in,” senior forward Hadley Bell said. “We learned that we need to take every single situation seriously.”
After reviewing tape, the Cavaliers were able to pinpoint some of the things that went wrong against the Tar Heels and what they need to improve upon for upcoming games.
“The game plan worked pretty well, it was just the attack that failed us,” Madison said. “They learned a lot of things from the UNC game. They learned they need to be more dynamic in attacking the ball.”
The painful loss to North Carolina was short lived, however. Virginia was able to bounce back and pull out a 2-1 victory Sunday against No. 13 Northwestern, providing an important emotional boost for the team’s upcoming midweek matchup against in-state James Madison.
“Coming off of the Northwestern win gets us really excited for the midweek game and weeks to come,” Bell said. “We take every game seriously. We’ll tweak a couple things defense-wise for [James Madison], but mostly we focus on what we can do.”
For Virginia, the game against James Madison carries just as much weight as its weekend matchups against North Carolina and Northwestern. Although unranked, the Dukes (5-3) bring a two-game win streak to Charlottesville. In both of those games, they managed to shut out their opponents and win by a combined 11-0 margin.
“I’ve played JMU the last couple years,” Johnstone said. “They’re always a good team to play. They come out hard.”
In its last midweek matchup Sept. 11, Virginia barely edged out Richmond in a 2-1 victory that came down to penalty strokes. James Madison fell 1-0 to the Spiders just four days later. Madison said she doesn’t want to risk her team starting off sluggish again after playing two highly ranked opponents over the weekend.
“It’s really hard to bounce back for midweek games,” Madison said. “We didn’t play so well against Richmond coming out of class onto the field. That’s definitely going to be a focal point this week.”
With the academic calendar nearing midterms just as the team’s schedule starts to heat up, the transition from the classroom to the field for a midweek game proves to be an even greater challenge. But drawing on experience from the Richmond matchup, the Cavaliers believe they are ready for the Dukes, regardless of their busy academic schedules.
“Our schedule gets pretty hectic at this point in the year, so midweek games are something we’re used to,” Johnstone said. “They’re always harder when you have school and you don’t get as much rest, but I think we have enough experience with it this season that we’ll be able to do it absolutely fine.”
The game will be the last of a three-game homestand for Virginia and will be held at 6 p.m. on the University Hall Turf Field.