Virginia field hockey begins this season with a changing of the guard - new faces, a new attitude and a new head coach.
Jessica Wilk comes in to take over for former head coach Missi Sanders, who resigned as head coach last spring to spend more time with her young children. While head coach, Sanders led the field hockey squad to consecutive NCAA Final Four appearances - expectations run high for this year's team and this year's coach.
"I think it's a challenge taking over a program that has been so successful," Wilk said. "It is a little easier, because I am inheriting a great group of returning players, a great group of incoming players, and a great staff."
Wilk is no stranger to the turf, however. She served as assistant coach for six years in the Virginia program she now heads.
As a player, Wilk enjoyed tremendous success. Wilk was a three-time All-American in field hockey at Maryland, where she won a National Championship. In 1986, she was named the Most Valuable Player of the ACC Tournament. Wilk hopes such success becomes infectious in the upcoming season.
"I would never ask my players to do something that I would not do myself," Wilk said. "I will bring a sense of excitement to this year's team, because anytime you start something new it only adds to the excitement."
The Cavs will have the same flavor as last year, but with a little spice to distinguish them from the 1998 squad.
"This year will be a good mix of the things we did last year with some different things we are going to try do this year," Wilk said. "I am going to change things up a little bit, but we are going to run some of the same schemes."
Wilk will have to adjust to her new position, however. Formerly a complement to Sanders, Wilk now will have the final say, a blessing and a burden for a new coach.
"Jess is very motivating to the players," assistant coach Mary Austin said. "She really makes the girls excited to play, and will do anything to help them get better."
Wilk's past will give the Cavaliers a much needed edge against a very competitive ACC. She is confident that this year's team has the work ethic and team chemistry to go far, and continue to be a force nationwide.
The Cavs will have their work cut out for them this season, and hope that the new faces are the last step in walking to a National Championship. Wilk counts her proudest moment as winning the 1987 NCAA Championship with her Terrapin teammates, but Virginia fans are hungry for a replication of this feat for the orange and blue.
"Potentially, if we play as well as I know we can, we'll compete for a National Championship," Wilk said. "How hard we are willing to work and consistency will decide the season."