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Cavaliers secure Final Four berth

Victories against Michigan State, Princeton put squad in semifinal against Heels

Just a year ago, the immediate celebration that followed Virginia's 3-2 overtime home victory against Michigan State - a victory that clinched the emerging program's first Final Four trip in 11 seasons - lasted more than a half-hour.

After a 4-2 victory against No. 6 Princeton yesterday at Turf Field confirmed three-seeded and third-ranked Virginia's second consecutive Final Four berth, the home team's celebration was much more muted.

"I felt like last year we were kind of content with just getting to the final four and being there and experiencing everything," Virginia All-ACC junior midfielder Paige Selenski said. "This year, our whole attitude has changed. Getting there isn't enough anymore. We want to keep going further ... We expect to be here."

Virginia's road to the Final Four - which saw the team navigate through No. 11 Michigan State and Princeton - was not easy, though.

During the Cavaliers' first-round matchup against Michigan State, Virginia started off sluggish. The team was unable to adjust to the Spartans' physical style of play, which allowed Michigan State to control the early rhythm of the game. The Spartans grabbed a 2-1 lead at halftime, both goals coming off short corners.

Michigan State "went for field position the entire game, and that made it tough for us to get in a rhythm," coach Michele Madison said. "We tried to block the big balls, and that didn't work [in the first half]. Michigan State put together a game plan they knew we didn't like. It [was not] easy to defend."

But Virginia adjusted during the second half by closing down the Spartans' ball handlers more vigorously. The increased pressure stagnated the Michigan State offense, allowing the home team to take control of the game and play with more precision.

During the second half alone, the Cavaliers took 11 shots. All-ACC freshman Elly Buckley scored the game-tying goal nine minutes into the second half, although the rest of Virginia's shots could not find their way past Michigan State's freshman goalkeeper Molly Cassidy.

The Cavaliers eventually scored the game-winning goal seven minutes into overtime on another Buckley score, but only after Michigan State barely missed scoring a game-winner of its own because of a shot on goal off a penalty corner that just missed the goal's woodwork by inches.

"One of our objectives [for the game] was to shoot, shoot and shoot more," Madison said. "It's a good thing we did because we needed all those shots to get three goals. Their goalie played a really good game. She was pretty significant."

On the other hand, Michigan State coach Rolf van de Kerkhof - who took up his position when Madison came to Virginia - noted that every team in Virginia's bracket, including his, had nothing to lose compared to the national title-contending Cavaliers.

"If Virginia doesn't go to the Final Four, it's not a successful season," van de Kerkhof said. "We were just happy to be back in the tournament, so we played with a lot more looseness than they did. I think [the called-off shot in overtime] was off by an inch. You talk about a game of inches in football - this was a game of inches in field hockey."

Virginia started similarly sluggish Sunday during its quarterfinal matchup against Princeton, which the Cavaliers defeated 2-1 at home a little more than a month ago. The Tigers, who possess one of the nation's best midfields with sisters Katie and Julia Reinprecht, were crisp early on and played with a level of precision that the Cavaliers could not match in the game's first stanza.

Much like its game against Michigan State, however, Virginia made defensive adjustments, mainly closing down and pressing players with more intensity.

Buckley scored an unassisted goal in the 30th minute, the first of four unanswered Virginia goals. She then scored the second Virginia goal three minutes into the next half, and Selenski and sophomore midfielder Tara Puffenberger added the Cavaliers' other goals.

"Today we couldn't quite keep up [with our style of play]," Princeton coach Kristen Holmes-Winn said. "It didn't help that [Katie Reinprecht] was injured, though. She was playing out there today at not even 50 percent [with a broken fibula]. Obviously she was cleared to play, but she just started running Thursday."

For the Cavaliers, the quarterfinal win against Princeton clinched a semifinal date with North Carolina next Friday in College Park, Md., the team's third matchup against the Tar Heels on the season. After two losses to North Carolina, the squad hopes that this third game proves to be the charm.

"We are just not content with going to the Final Four this year," junior defender Rachel Jennings said. Madison "kept us at College Park last season to watch the national championship game [between Maryland and North Carolina] after we lost [in the semifinals]. We don't want to have to go through that again, though. We want to be in that game this year. So we know what we have to do"