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Cavs host Duke for Senior Night

Jahnle, Jennings and Ostroff play final game at Turf Field Saturday

The Virginia field hockey team will host No. 5 Duke during its regular season finale Saturday night on a Senior Night game the Cavaliers hope will provide as much practical significance as it does symbolic.

The team will honor its three seniors, midfielder Alexandra Jahnle, defender Rachel Jennings and goalkeeper Adrienne Ostroff. The three seniors have helped lead Virginia to its most successful three-year stretch in the program's 39-year history, reaching the NCAA quarterfinals each year and advancing to the semifinals the last two years. Virginia will also seek some much-needed momentum heading into a do-or-die conference tournament as it looks to prove that it can compete with the ACC elite.

Virginia (7-11, 0-4) has not only failed to meet lofty preseason expectations in 2011 but has also failed to register a conference victory in four tries. Now the only thing standing between the Cavaliers and a premature end to their 2011 campaign - and a five-year run of NCAA tournament appearances - is the distant possibility of claiming the first ACC championship in team history and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Although the Cavaliers' prospects of salvaging a season which began with so much promise seem bleak, they know a win against the Blue Devils would go a long way towards boosting team morale and giving the seniors the send-off they deserve.

"We're still within a shout," associate head coach Michael Boal said. "We've never given up, and we never will give up until it's over. It's a great sentiment to [the seniors] to have this day in honor of them. They deserve it, and hopefully as a team we can really give them the performance and the result that they deserve for their final home game."

Duke (11-5, 2-2) comes to Charlottesville firing on all cylinders. The Blue Devils have won four out of their last five games, including an overtime thriller against previously undefeated No. 1 Old Dominion, 2-1.

The Blue Devils topped the Monarchs despite being outshot, 17-10, largely because of a dominant performance by redshirt senior goalkeeper Samantha Nelson, who was later named ACC Player of the Week. The win catapulted Duke to third place in the ACC - its highest conference standing since 2008 - despite a conference-worst average of 2.62 goals per game, and relied heavily on stellar defense and solid play between the pipes by Nelson, who leads the ACC with five shutouts, to secure the win.

Where the Blue Devils have been consistently impressive, allowing just 1.19 goals per game, the Cavaliers have been anything but by allowing 3.11 goals per game - more than a goal worse than any other team in the ACC. Virginia's struggles to keep the ball out of its own net have become less of a hindrance and more of a full-blown crisis in recent weeks. The team has dropped four out of the five last games including conference losses to North Carolina, 7-2, and Wake Forest last Saturday, 5-0, while allowing almost four goals per game.

"We really just want to play like we know how," Jennings said. "We've been struggling and not playing the way we've been playing in practice. We get to games and we don't play the same. I think if we just come out and give it everything we have, and leave it all on the field, we'll be set."

Along with playing her final game in Charlottesville, Jennings also will be squaring off against one of her triplets, senior midfielder Tara Jennings, who is Duke's third leading scorer with six goals.\n"I'm definitely really excited [for Senior Night] and for playing my sister as well, but it's a little bittersweet," Jennings said. "It's sad to be playing my last home game."

The Cavaliers' history with the Blue Devils runs much deeper than the Jennings sisters' rivalry. Exactly one year ago Sunday, it was the Cavaliers who spoiled the Blue Devils' Senior Night during a trip to Durham. Then-freshman forward Elly Buckley put the game-winning goal past Nelson to take the regular season finale, 2-1, and set up a Duke-Virginia showdown in the first round of the ACC Tournament. That win keyed a repeat performance, as the Cavaliers again downed Duke, 2-1, and ended the Blue Devils' season.

The two team's fortunes are reversed in 2011, as it is the Cavaliers who sit in the ACC cellar and hope to rally around their seniors to secure a statement win and set the tone for a possible postseason matchup.

"I think a win over Duke would give us a huge confidence boost," Jennings said. "I think if we just come out and give it everything we have, and leave it all on the field, we'll be set and be able to have a good performance in the ACC Tournament."

Saturday's game is slated for 1 p.m.