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Virginia eyes twin tilts

After 3-0 loss to Spartans, squad faces California, Northwestern in Evanston

For most of Michele Madison's tenure as Virginia's field hockey coach, the results have been impressive. As the Cavaliers prepare for a weekend set against California and Northwestern, however, Madison has needed to adopt a different tack with her struggling team.

We need to "not get so caught up in the end result right now, but just [focus on] the performance and make sure the performance keeps growing," Madison said.

The Cavaliers' performance of late has been well below the team's historical standard. During its past two seasons, Virginia compiled a 38-8 overall record and made two trips to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament. This year, the Cavaliers have stumbled out of the starting blocks to a 4-3 record which includes several decisive losses - Virginia has been outscored 10-1 in its three defeats.

The most recent loss came against previously winless Michigan State, as the Spartans jumped to a 2-0 halftime lead before prevailing 3-0. Michigan State only held a 9-8 lead in shots taken and both teams placed five shots on goal, but Spartans redshirt freshman goalkeeper Molly Cassidy turned in a stellar performance, recording five saves during a shutout victory. Although Cassidy deserves credit for her performance, Cavaliers sophomore forward Hadley Bell also attributes Virginia's offensive struggles to a lack of opportunism.

"[Our strategy] is still going to be to take as many shots as we can, and just capitalize on those opportunities that we get." Hadley said. "We're a really attacking team. We got a lot of shots off, but I think our second and third shots were what we were missing, so I think this week we're definitely going to be working on that."

Both Bell and her coach believe that to jumpstart its offense, Virginia must be more aggressive both in taking and following up on shots.

"We have to find the open areas of the field to attack ... where we have numbers, and definitely take better percentage shots, and really work on playing rebounds and deflections," Madison said.

The Cavaliers will have a chance to show their renewed focus and energy when they visit Evanston, Ill., this weekend. Saturday, they face No. 11 California, a team whose resume includes a perfect 5-0 record and four wins against top-20 opponents.

Sunday, Virginia faces Northwestern (5-2), which has received votes in national polls after recently defeating No. 8 American 2-1.

The loss of two star players from last year - senior midfielders Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese - constitutes another big reason for the squad's struggles this season. Both former first-team All-Americans are redshirting during their senior season to fulfill national team duties for the United States.

Selenski and Vittese participated in a European tour and a series against New Zealand before being selected to the U.S. roster for the Pan American Games. Now the two have an even bigger goal in mind.

"Being named to the Pan Am Team is a step in the right direction for Paige [Selenski] and Michelle [Vittese] to fulfill their Olympic dreams," Madison said. "They have put in a lot of hard work to be able to get this far. It is a great honor to be able to represent your country on the international stage."

Losing a pair of such high-caliber players is a tough hurdle for any team to overcome, especially one as young as the Cavaliers. Fifteen of the 21 players on the squad are freshmen or sophomores, and the team is consequently highlighting its growing process rather than just the final score.

"We just have to focus on what we're doing every day and improve pieces of the game," Madison said.