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No. 2 Virginia punches ticket to national semis


The Virginia field hockey team climbed to new heights this weekend at Turf Field. After shutting out Richmond 3-0 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday, the Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA national semifinals for the third time in school history by edging Michigan State 3-2 in overtime yesterday.

"I couldn't be more proud of my team, how they stuck it out," Virginia head coach Michele Madison said.

The Cavaliers patiently endured a scoreless final 30 minutes of regulation to send the game into overtime with the score tied at two. Michigan State entered the overtime period down one player because of a yellow card given at the end of regulation, and the Cavaliers quickly capitalized. Two minutes into the period, sophomore midfielder Paige Selenski got the ball at the top of the circle and hit a slow roller that crept untouched into the goal for the winning score.

"It was like the worst hit ever," Selenski said. "But [sophomore midfielder] Michelle [Vittese] did a great job of screening out the goalie and blocking her vision so it was able to go in."

Though the goal was Virginia's first in more than 45 minutes, the Cavaliers controlled the game's early offensive tempo, outshooting the Spartans 14-7 in the first period. They were able to penetrate the circle several times and converted on one of those opportunities 10 minutes into the game, when Vittese fed Selenski the ball at the front of the goal. With 15 minutes to go in the period, Michigan State evened the score, but senior forward Traci Ragukas put the Cavaliers back on top five minutes later, bringing the score to 2-1 after tipping in a pass from Selenski.

The second half, however, saw an entirely different pace and character. Michigan State managed to get off to a quick start, scoring an unassisted goal off a breakaway from the right side of the circle to tie the game.

"In the first half, we played fabulous hockey," Madison said. "I think we got a little nervous in the second half and changed what we were doing a little bit. It wasn't working, and the pressure built, and I have to give a lot of credit to Michigan State."

Tenacious defense from both teams characterized the rest of the period, with few scoring opportunities for either squad. It seemed that the momentum had shifted toward the Spartans.

But the struggle of the second period gave way to a swift and painless overtime for the Cavaliers, as the squad emerged victorious to set a new school record for wins in a season while punching its ticket to the national semifinals.

A big reason for the Cavaliers' turnaround can be attributed to Madison. Virginia has been gradually improving ever since she took the team's reins, and the Cavaliers entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 seed behind only Maryland, to which it lost the ACC title game.

"Once you figure out what to do with [your team's talent], you just realize how good you are," Vittese said. "It would have been so upsetting if we didn't win today. If we didn't go on, we would have felt like a failure."

Instead, the Cavaliers will advance to face ACC rival North Carolina in a semifinal match Friday in Winston Salem, N.C. Though the program reached a new peak this weekend, the climb may not be over yet.