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Virginia ends home schedule on high note

Team beats No. 14 Wake Forest, trounces Radford in year

The six seniors on the Virginia field hockey team closed their home careers in impressive fashion this past weekend, winning their final ACC home game Saturday against No. 14 Wake Forest 4-1 and clinching their last home game overall Sunday against Radford 8-0.

No. 3 Virginia played a fast and flowing attacking game en route to its 4-1 victory against the Demon Deacons Saturday. Sophomore midfielder Tara Puffenberger notched a goal and two assists, while junior forward Paige Selenski scored twice. Freshman midfielder Katie Robinson also recorded a one-timer goal off a long Puffenberger pass from the midfield line.

"The team just played with structure," Puffenberger said. "In some past games, it's seemed like we've tried to do the awesome move instead of the simple move, and we've worked in practice to get back to the basics. We're leading our passes better, and that contributed heavily to the game we played [against Wake Forest]."

The Cavaliers were even more emphatic in their 8-0 win against the Highlanders Sunday. Even with six seniors in the starting lineup, freshman forward Elly Buckley stole the show with four goals and two assists. Selenski added two goals, while senior captain midfielder Haley Carpenter also put away a goal. Junior defender Rachel Jennings also took part in the scoring when she notched her first goal of the season.

For Carpenter - the most recent recipient of Virginia field hockey's team award - the thought of playing her final home game in a Virginia uniform was bittersweet.

"Basically half of our starting lineup [my freshman year] were freshmen ... and it was frustrating not knowing the system," Carpenter said. "But it's been so fulfilling though over the past four years, as new recruiting classes come in and we get better. We all have faith in each other and we're hoping that will help us win a national championship."

Senior forward Kaitlyn Hiltz - who would have scored her first goal of the season off a Buckley pass in Sunday's game if Radford senior goalkeeper Jennifer Wisniewski had not made a stick save - added that Senior Day festivities, while bittersweet, also gave the team perspective on how far its players had progressed and how much more this year's squad can achieve.

"I've grown so much over the past four years, and so has this team during the season," Hiltz said. "The season has gone by so quick, and we just have to make our focus even stronger as we get through the rest of our season and try and reach our goals."

This year's senior class is particularly significant for coach Michele Madison, who accepted her job five years ago, eager to awake a slumping program and ready to restore the consistent winning tradition that the program experienced during the late 1990s with coach Missi Sanders.

Although Madison quickly achieved that with a six-win turnaround in her first season - her strong performance earned her National Coach of the Year honors while guiding the Cavaliers to a 14-8 record and an Elite Eight appearance - her rebuilding process truly started when her recruits started to trickle though the program.

Ever since Madison's "own players" have entered the Virginia program, the Cavaliers have reached unprecedented success. Last season, Virginia tallied 20 wins and its third-ever Final Four appearance.

Madison attributes much of the Cavaliers' progress to this season's class of seniors, her first recruiting class.

The current senior class "took a leap of faith," Madison said. Assistant coach Alexandra Street and Madision "arrived here in February [2006], and we had players commit in April and May. We hoped that they could help bring us to a national level of prominence, and they did ... in what seemed to be like baby steps - first the Sweet Sixteen [in 2007], Elite Eight [in 2008] and Final Four [last season], and hopefully more this year."

As Hiltz noted, Virginia still has unfinished business. The Cavaliers travel to Durham, N.C. next Saturday to play No. 17 Duke in its final ACC match of the regular season before preparing for the ACC Tournament in two weeks.