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Seasoned Cavs carry high hopes to St. Joseph

Highly-ranked Virginia preps for nonconference foes before loaded ACC

The No. 3 Virginia field hockey team kicks off its 2010 campaign this weekend with two tough away games in Pennsylvania. The Cavaliers will face St. Joseph's in Philadelphia this Saturday and No. 18 Penn State in Happy Valley Sunday.

Led by fifth-year coach Michele Madison, Virginia has high hopes for this season. The team is returning more than half of the starters from last year's squad, which won a school-record 24 games and made it to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Among the returners are two preseason All-ACC selections, juniors Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese.

Virginia also returns three U-21 Junior National Team selections: junior Rachel Jennings and sophomore Tara Puffenberger and all-region senior goalkeeper Kim Kastuk, who racked up an average of 0.97 goals-against and eight shutouts last season.

Overall, the Cavaliers were picked to finish third in the ACC behind No. 1 North Carolina - the defending national champion and ACC Tournament champion - and No. 2 Maryland, but Madison believes her squad has what it takes to make it to the top this year.

"The ACC with North Carolina, Maryland and us making the top three - it's going to be tough," Madison said. "We open up the 24th with Boston College, and it's still preseason. It's nice that we're ranked that high ... But we just have to get work done."

Madison's Cavaliers looked good in their only preseason game - a 3-1 home win against No. 12 James Madison. Freshman Elly Buckley scored twice with one assist, while Puffenberger contributed a goal and an assist in the win.

Even so, the squad will have to work hard to live up to expectations this weekend.

"We have to work on possessing the ball and do what we need to do to control possession," Madison said. "We also have to work on our team defense since we have four or five new players on the field." St. Joseph's, who went 7-11 overall but 4-2 in conference play last season, features junior Ellen Rowe - who scored nine goals during the 2009 campaign - and senior Hannah Rogers, who contributed six goals and three assists.

Penn State, meanwhile, boasts a hungry and talented squad eager to improve on last year's 7-13 overall record. The Nittany Lions feature sophomore Kelsey Amy - who scored eight goals last season - along with redshirt sophomore Hannah Allison and junior Jessica Longstreth, who both added five goals and two assists each.

"Penn State's always big; they always play us big," redshirt junior midfielder Boyd Vicars said. "It'll be a good match to start off the season with."

The Saturday game in Philadelphia starts at 11 a.m., while the Sunday game in Happy Valley begins at noon. The Cavaliers will then return home to face Old Dominion the following Sunday.