The third-ranked Virginia field hockey team understands it is essentially out of the running for the ACC regular season championship with a 1-2 conference record and only two games remaining. Telling the team it has little to play for during its final regular season home games against No. 14 Wake Forest and Radford this weekend, however, won't render similar resignation.
Sunday's matchup against Radford is Senior Day for the Cavaliers. Defender Shelly Edmonds, midfielders Haley Carpenter, Taylor Swezey and Boyd Vicars, forward Kaitlyn Hiltz and goalkeeper Kim Kastuk will be honored during pre-game festivities before stepping onto the turf for their final regular season game at Turf Field.\n"We're just focused on improving as a team and hopefully winning out," Kastuk said. "[But Sunday's game] will be special though. We have many games to play still, so there's still plenty to play for ... plenty at stake."
Virginia coach Michele Madison did not excessively hype up Sunday's game, either, but did acknowledge the impact her first full recruiting class has made on the program.
"[The seniors] took a leap of faith and never looked back," Madison said. "They were some of the top high school players in the nation graduating that year, [persevering] through the rough times to put U.Va. on the map. And look, now we are perennial contenders. We're [currently] jockeying for a top-three seed for the [NCAA Tournament again] ... But we know that we need to improve our game to get there, if we really want to host more home games and achieve our biggest goals."
Madison said her team has begun to demonstrate more consistency in practice - something it has lacked throughout the season. She added her players, who have played frantically at times, are gaining the composure and awareness championship teams possess.
"I usually don't let my players fool me, but the team is looking superb in practice," she said. "I've been preaching the message that having possession of the ball is like a relationship - you don't want to be lonely wandering around and the ball doesn't want to be lonely not with us. We're not only holding possession of the ball, though, but maintaining it in our attack by making the 100 percent correct decision every single time. It's very encouraging."
Whether the Cavaliers' growing self-control will stand up against Wake Forest (8-6, 1-2 ACC) will be determined tomorrow. Junior midfielder Faith Adams, who leads Wake with eight goals and six assists on the season, spearheads a potent Demon Deacon attack that will capitalize on Virginia mistakes.
"Wake Forest is a tough team, another tough ACC opponent, another ranked team," Madison said. "If we play our game and continue improving with possession, then we'll do well."
Meanwhile, Radford (8-7, 2-3 NorPac) is led by senior forward Kay Tufts, who has totaled eight goals and two assists on the season. Tufts will look to junior midfielder Madonna Wadolowski - who has eight assists on the season - to feed her chances.
Game time for both Saturday's game against Wake Forest and Sunday's game against Radford is 1 p.m.