Red​ ​hot​ ​field​ ​hockey​ ​team​ ​prepares​ ​for​ ​tough​ ​weekend​

Cavaliers get ready to take on North Carolina, Drexel

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Senior star midfielder Tara Vittese had a quiet weekend as her team went 1-1.

Mariana Fraser | Cavalier Daily

The No. 3 Virginia field hockey team (10-1, 3-0 ACC) has a tough weekend scheduled. On Friday, the Cavaliers will host the No. 6 North Carolina Tar Heels (10-2, 2-1 ACC), a talented team that has won its last six games. Virginia will then be tasked with taking on the Drexel Dragons (5-7, 0-1 CAA) Sunday, a historic division powerhouse that will bring a different play style to Charlottesville. 

The Cavaliers are in the middle of a monumental season offensively, topping the charts in almost every type of offensive efficiency. Led by senior defensive midfielder Tara Vittese, a two-time NFHCA Player of the Year, the Cavaliers have averaged close to six goals per game, an outrageous statistic considering the strength of the schedule Virginia has faced. 

In a 2-0 road victory against the then-No. 13 Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-5, 2-2 ACC) last Friday, the Cavaliers outshot the opponent 19-3, breaking down the formidable defensive abilities of Wake Forest through a ferocious bombardment and near-constant offensive pressure. 

“I think we’re just connecting really well,” Vittese said. “Connection is a great word for us, as we all help each other really well, and there’s a couple of us that connect well with give and go passes and … inside-out passes. I think once we have people that are getting open and … time our leads we’re really hard to stop.” 

The Cavaliers’ ruthless offensive arsenal is a major part of the game philosophy of Coach Michele Madison. However, the Cavaliers this year have outperformed expectations, in part due to increased offensive output by junior forward Greta Ell and freshman midfielder Pien Dicke. 

“It’s amazing, I think the team has done a great job,” Madison said. “They're starting to get used to each other’s leads — they're proving the options they need for the ball, and they're able to find each other … We definitely built a strategy for our offense first and now the defense is following.”

The Cavalier defense is indeed on a hot streak, having shut out their last four opponents, including two ranked teams. Junior goalkeeper Carrera Lucas and freshman goalkeeper Lauren Hausheer have combined for 26 straight saves, a testament to their own defensive prowess. They have been assisted by aggressive defensive play from the midfielders and backs of the team, which have stifled some of the nation’s best offenses. 

“I just think defensively we have been focusing on getting organized early and everyone having a job because … It is much easier to get the ball back,” Vittese said. “Communication is key on that, and we’ve been doing a really good job on organizing and finding our job on the field, whether it is marking, being in goal line or double teaming.” 

Virginia faces a tough opponent in North Carolina, an ACC team with an illustrious field hockey program and a tempo that could rival that of Virginia. North Carolina’s defense is one of the best in the nation, with junior defensive midfielder Ashley Hoffman and freshman goalkeeper Amanda Hendry each named the best ACC defensive player of the week in separate weeks. This defense could slow down the Cavalier offensive machine, turning the game into a defensive contest reminiscent of the Wake Forest game last week.

Virginia played the Tar Heels twice last season, splitting games with them 1-1. 

“We’re just preparing to play the best game we can,” Madison said. “It’s a formidable opponent. [North Carolina] has great players and is very skilled and very disciplined, so it’s going to take a very strong game plan and a lot of will.” 

The Cavaliers’ last matchup against Drexel was Aug. 28, 2015, a contest in which the Cavaliers won 6-0. But Virginia will not underestimate the Dragons, which have been a powerhouse team in the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference which includes Delaware, William & Mary, James Madison and other historically dominant programs. The CAA is known for having more physical games than the tempo-based Cavaliers and the rest of the ACC. 

“We’re excited to welcome Drexel,” Madison said. “We saw them a couple years ago ... They’re always a strong, physical team, they’re dominant in their conference and I’m sure they’ll bring a different look for us on Sunday.” 

The North Carolina game is scheduled for 5 p.m. Friday evening and the Drexel game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. Both games are free for all attendees and will take place at University Hall Turf Field in Charlottesville.

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