The Virginia field hockey team's season remained on the rocks with two road losses last weekend, and its challenges continue as it faces No. 2 North Carolina at home tomorrow.
When Virginia (6-9, 0-2 ACC) played Princeton last Friday at the Tigers' home field, a strong start faded into a disappointing finish. The Cavaliers needed only five minutes to seize a 1-0 lead as sophomore forward Elly Buckley notched her 11th goal of the season, but Princeton scored twice during the final three minutes of the half to take a 2-1 lead into halftime. After the intermission, Virginia continued to pressure the opposing defense and outshot the Tigers by a margin of 11-7 for the match. Ultimately, the promising scoring opportunities proved fruitless as Princeton won 2-1.
Sunday morning Virginia turned around and played another game in Princeton against No. 4 Connecticut. The match seemed to follow the same frustrating script for the Cavaliers. Virginia tallied first as sophomore back Lane Smith put the ball into the cage at the very end of the first half, and Buckley was credited with an assist on the goal. During the second half, however, the Huskies rallied and scored twice off of penalty corners. For the second straight contest, freshman goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone recorded three saves but suffered a 2-1 defeat.
"We were winning until the last eight minutes of the game ... so it was really disappointing," Buckley said. "We dominated most of the game, so it was disappointing to come away with a loss."
The Cavaliers look to turn that disappointment into renewed motivation against another top-notch nemesis, North Carolina. The Tar Heels (13-1, 4-0 ACC) just dispatched Appalachian State by an impressive 12-0 score. The squad's only loss on the season was a 3-1 setback Sept. 16 against Old Dominion, a squad which defeated the Cavaliers 4-1 in Norfolk Sept. 4.
One key to a Cavalier turnaround is the need to re-establish a high level of offensive output. Virginia scored 42 goals through its first 13 games of the season but only scored once in each of this weekend's defeats.
"Obviously we have to get the attack game back," coach Michele Madison said. "We outshot ourselves against [UC] Davis, and we hit off a couple goal posts against Princeton. We just have to work on sustaining the same attack regardless of the opponent ... The first half against UConn we pretty much had our way with them, and if we could have sustained the attack, it would have been bigger than a 1-0 game."
Sustaining an effective attack might be easier said than done against the powerful Tar Heels. North Carolina has shut out 10 of its 14 opponents this year, including ACC teams Duke, Wake Forest and Boston College. The nation's second-best squad has allowed only seven goals total this season, three of which came during its loss to Old Dominion. The prospect of playing in Charlottesville also does not seem likely to rattle North Carolina either, as the team has outscored its opponents 22-0 in its five games away from Chapel Hill.
Still, Virginia averages just shy of three goals scored per game this season and refuses to let a couple of tough losses take away its edge heading into a huge ACC matchup.
"It's a conference game." Madison said. "Teams like that bring out the best in you, so we definitely have to get ready defensively and offensively."
The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.