The third-ranked Virginia field hockey squad jelled into a well-oiled machine that ran the table during non-conference play but from today onward, will find itself in a whole new ball game.
"Conference play is like a new season," freshman forward Elly Buckley said. "We've won our games so far, but [the ACC competition] will force us to play up to our best [rather than] play down to competition like we did in some of our games so far."
On the road today against No. 12 Boston College, the Cavaliers hope to kick off conference play to a successful start. Despite the Eagles' (6-2, 0-1 ACC), relatively low ranking, coach Michele Madison knows her team has a tough conference-opening matchup.
"The ACC is the best conference in the nation for hockey," Madison said. "UNC, Maryland and our team are in the top three spots. There are no easy games in our conference."
Boston College is certainly hungry to earn a statement win against Virginia after dropping a tightly contested match 4-2 at No. 2 Maryland last week. Seniors Janna Anctil and Emily Kozniuk, with 13 and 11 points, respectively, will lead the Eagles' upset efforts against the Cavaliers.
Regardless of whatever threat they face, the Cavaliers are improving daily, Madison said, adding that they have what it takes to beat anybody. Her players are finally starting to execute her system of play, Madison said, and are fitting into team roles.
"Our coaching staff has met recently about [team roles and expectations]," Madison said. "We're starting to figure these things out. We still have a long way to go, but the team is improving. Outside of [Anctil] and some of the international players, we don't know much about Boston College. [We're] looking at the game film to learn more ... Hopefully our furthest trip up north will go well."
Madison expects to see Boston College and other ACC competition to focus on shutting down the lethal duo of juniors Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese, similar to what then-No. 12 Ohio State and then-No. 9 Syracuse recently managed to accomplished. She hopes that players like Buckley and sophomore midfielder Tara Puffenberger - who together scored 14 of Virginia's 17 total points against Ohio State and Syracuse - will continue to step up when the team's star tandem are shut down.
"Tara and I are getting to understand each other, the styles of play and how we fit into the team," Buckley said. "When other teams focus on Paige and Michelle, I think our team has the players to still play well."
Today's faceoff in Chestnut Hill, Mass., is slated for 4 p.m.