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Overtime goal sinks Cavs in semifinals

No. 3 Virginia fails to score for first time this season; teams combine for only 15 shots in defensive struggle

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - The Virginia field hockey team's bid for the ACC Tournament Championship ended last Friday with a disappointing 1-0 overtime loss to No. 2 North Carolina in the semifinals, marking the fifth straight year the Cavaliers have exited the tournament in the semifinal stage.

The game-winning goal came two minutes into overtime when North Carolina's All-ACC sophomore midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick scored off a self-created counterattack. As Virginia was developing its attacking sequence, Kolojejchick intercepted a telegraphed pass from Virginia sophomore midfielder Tara Puffenberger at midfield, dribbled through the Cavaliers' half of the field while initiating a three-on-two counterattack and finished with a left-to-right shot from the top of the circle that beat the keeper's far post.

For the third-ranked Cavaliers (16-3), surrendering the game-winning goal to the Tar Heels (19-2) off a simple mistake after playing one of their better games made the loss even more excruciating.

"It was a great defensive battle - both teams were dangerous inside the 25 [yard line], and both goalies were excellent," Virginia coach Michele Madison said. "We were a bit shy [finishing attacks], but it was end line to end line, and it was an even game. We know better than [to give the ball away]. It's overtime. The field is 60-by-100 - you can't make it 40-by-40 or 20-by-20 and force the pass."

Virginia got off to a promising start with three penalty corners during the first seven minutes. Both teams eventually settled into a fast-paced game and consistently surged forward on counterattacks. Neither squad, however, was able to break the other's defense inside the circle and translate counterattacks into goal-scoring opportunities during regulation. The teams combined for only five shots - four from Virginia and one from North Carolina - during the first half. Each team recorded four shots during the second half.

Virginia All-ACC freshman forward Elly Buckley chalked up the loss to poor finishing. Although the Cavaliers have had difficulty finding the net throughout the season, Friday's game marked the first time they failed to score.

"We played well; we built attacks and played fast," Buckley said. "We just weren't able to finish, to score goals off of the many opportunities we had."

Senior goalkeeper Kim Kastuk, who finished the night with three saves, said the loss and offensive frustration should not diminish the Cavaliers' impressive defensive performance. "Our defense was stellar tonight, and I guess I did well tonight," she said. "You have to give credit to [junior midfielder] Michelle Vittese and [freshman back] Chloe Pendlebury for doing such a superb job sweeping away UNC's opportunities, covering for us."

Kastuk noted that Vittese, who usually guides the Cavaliers' transition game between defense and attack, played closer to the back during Friday's game. Kastuk added the Cavaliers may use the tactical adjustment in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

"Michelle's the best on our team in terms of distributing the ball and making the passes," Kastuk said. "We've struggled to transition from defense to attack, so the fact that we were able to do that today [with the counterattacks] is a testament to her ability. We know we have more games to play, and we'll continue to make improvements. Michelle in the back, though, certainly was a positive adjustment."

The NCAA Tournament will take place this weekend at a location yet to be determined.