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Cavalier midfield duo ranks with ACC's best

Watching a Virginia women's soccer game, Katie Tracy is one of the first players to stand out. She's yelling encouragement to her teammates from her spot at center midfield, out-fighting her opponents for headers and loose balls and generally doing all the things a reigning team MVP and "unsung hero" should do.

Lori Lindsey is often harder to spot. Not as many diving headers and kamikaze tackles as her midfield partner, Lindsey's game is built on precision passing and field vision. If Tracy is the sparkplug of the Cavalier engine, Lindsey is the ball bearings.

And as the No. 25 Cavs head south for a pair of games this weekend at No. 9 Duke and unranked N.C. State, they will rely as always on their two star center mids.

The pair most definitely is up to the task. Tracy scored the game-winner when Virginia (2-2) handed then-No. 3 Portland only its ninth home loss of the decade two weeks ago. Lindsey, an All-ACC second-teamer last year, helped win a gold medal for the U.S. at the Pan American Games this summer.

While they are two of the Conference's best midfielders, their styles have little in common.

"K.T. is really strong with her upper body," Cav coach April Heinrichs said. "She fights for every ball and is a real thinker. Lori Lindsey has a strong lower body. She's extremely clean and technical, with a really sweet touch. K.T. is more of a stay-at-home type and Lori is more of a slashing midfielder."

Off the field, the pair isn't quite so different.

"Coming in, our personalities just got along well so that really helped working the kinks out," Lindsey said. "We kind of know where each other are, because we've been playing together for over a year now."

Tracy, who benefited from the tutelage of now-departed midfielder Jennifer Rawlings in her rookie season, has likewise helped ease Lindsey's transition to the college game.

"We have a little bit of a legacy where the older center mid looks after the younger center mid," Heinrichs said. "K.T.'s first year, I remember her following J.R. around and they were spitting images of one another. Now I think K.T. has taken Lori under her wing."

The pair combined for 16 goals last year and set off with forward Angela Hucles for Portland, Ore., in the Adidas Summer League this July. For two weeks they squared off against each other and the best in college soccer, but Lindsey left for the Pan American Games before the league wrapped up.

"She left early to go claim gold and I went camping and hung out with my sister," Tracy said with a grin.

Lindsey's soccer-packed summer paid dividends when she returned to Charlottesville.

"I definitely came back in a lot better shape this year," Lindsey said. "The Adidas League is the top college players in the country and the Pan Ams were an even higher level."

That kind of competition prepared Lindsey and Tracy for the amount of responsibility the Virginia system places on them. With a front line that usually only features two forwards, the Cav midfielders are called upon to help set up the offense, this in addition to their defensive duties.

"We really ask them to do an awful lot of work on the attacking side of the game," Heinrichs said. "Then we ask them to do an awful lot of work on the defensive side."

The Cavaliers obviously appreciate the job their center mids did last season. Tracy - then in only her second year - beat out Hucles, the program's all-time leading scorer, star keeper Megan Boehm and fourth-year defenders Karem Esteva and Liz Botta for Cav MVP honors.

"The team voted on that, so I don't know if they thought I was the best or if I was just the nicest," Tracy joked. "But I did something right, I guess."

"She's living proof that you can have competitive fire in your belly and still be the sweetest, nicest person on the planet," Heinrichs said. "Katie Tracy beats her teammates on a regular basis and she's still extremely well liked on our team."