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Squad embarks on trying travels

After dropping first non-conference bout since 2008, Cavs aim to regroup against surging Monarchs, Tigers

The No. 3 Virginia field hockey team hits the road for the first time this weekend, eyeing a chance to bounce back from last weekend's tough loss against No. 8 Penn State with matchups against Towson and Old Dominion - the first two opponents in a seven-game road stint for the Cavaliers (1-1).

Virginia failed to record a single goal against Penn State Sunday, suffering a 3-0 loss - its first non-conference defeat since 2008. The Cavaliers struggled to contain the speedy Nittany Lion attack and failed to successfully convert on all eight of their penalty corners.

"Without a doubt, we have to address all parts of it, [and] everyone has a role in that," coach Michele Madison said. "I think we had five shots off the penalty corners, but no second or third shots, and those are ones that score. And that's what we have to get people conditioned to do."

This week at practice, Madison pushed her squad to focus on regrouping after the unexpected upset and urged the Cavaliers to shore up the basic skills they have used to decimate opponents in the past.

"Last week was definitely a learning experience for us," sophomore defensive back Chloe Pendlebury said. "So this week we're really gonna work on our system. Just refreshing it, going over our press, going over our structure."

Virginia's first opportunity to reassert its game plan will take place tomorrow afternoon against Towson (0-2) at the University of Maryland. The Tigers have limped out to a disappointing start to their 2011 campaign, dropping games against both Radford and Longwood. In their two season-opening losses, the Tigers allowed twice as many shots as they have taken and only managed to tally one score. In contrast, No. 12 Old Dominion (2-0) enters Sunday's matchup against the Cavaliers riding a wave of early-season success. The Monarchs opened the year with an upset win against Penn State last Friday before rolling past No. 10 American two days later. Both triumphs came by a comfortable three-goal margin, and the Cavaliers expect that the Monarchs will bring the same level of intensity to this weekend's bout.

"At this part of the season, it's so hard to pick a plan against ODU," Madison said. "They're a very strong team. They're very fit. They have a lot of confidence right now, so we have to concern ourselves with what we're doing and get our game how we need it to be."

In addition to ensuring that her squad focuses on the aspects of its game that will propel it to victory, Madison will also need to make certain that her relatively young group maintains focus during its first major trip away from Charlottesville.

"We have a young team, and I can hopefully keep them together, keep their brains where they need to be for field hockey and have some fun together," Madison said.

The adjustment to road play will be crucial for the Cavaliers as they play 13 of their remaining 17 regular season games away from the friendly confines of Turf Field. It can be especially hard for a young team to adapt to traveling, but Pendlebury believes that the key is "handing in work early and being prepared so when you're on the bus, you don't have to think about school [but rather] more hockey."

The Cavaliers return home Sept. 23 when they open conference play against Boston College.