The Virginia field hockey team faces a must-win situation this afternoon against fierce rival Duke in the opening round of the ACC Tournament. With a shaky regular season record to their name, the Cavaliers (8-11, 1-4 ACC) must win the conference championship to qualify for the NCAA Tournament - a feat the squad has achieved during each of coach Michele Madison's five seasons at the helm.
Luckily for Virginia, Duke (11-6, 2-3 ACC) provides a very familiar test as Madison's squad defeated the No. 6 Blue Devils 3-2 on penalty strokes during its regular season finale last Saturday. The Cavaliers' reward for the upset came in the form of an ACC quarterfinal rematch with the Blue Devils.
But despite their most recent success against the Blue Devils, Madison urged her players to forget the entire regular season this week at practice and focus solely on the task at hand.
"I think it's a new season," Madison said. "I think if we sit back and think about how we beat them already, we're only setting our self up, and we can't do that. It has nothing to do with Duke or anything. Get it done or go home."
With this do-or-die mentality, Virginia hopes to put forth its strongest effort in an attempt to make an improbable run through the field of six conference teams from its spot as the last seed in the tournament.
"[Our urgency is] starting to build now," Madison said. "We just build that urgency in terms of no regrets. You've got to put it on the line. You can't leave anything left to think about."
If Virginia hopes to down the Blue Devils again this afternoon, the squad will need another quality performance from freshman goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone. Johnstone, who has continued to improve bit by bit throughout the season, finished with a career-high 14 saves during the first clash between the two programs in which Duke held 28-7 and 14-3 advantages in shots and penalty corners, respectively. She earned her first-ever ACC Co-Player of the Week honor for her efforts.
In front of Johnstone, the Cavaliers will seek to find consistent and fluid play on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
"In practice, we're sticking to the gameplan," redshirt freshman midfielder Sarah Weber said. "Everyone's participating on defense and offense, and we're just using what we know."
Maintaining focus on a set strategy will be especially crucial for the Cavaliers as they face a quick, five-day turnaround from their last appearance against the Blue Devils, who boast talented players on both sides of the ball. Duke averages 2.59 goals per game, while only conceding 1.24 on average. The Blue Devils' two leading scorers, sophomore midfielder Emmie Le Marchand and junior midfielder Devon Gagliardi, will especially provide a stiff challenge for Johnstone, who allowed both opponents to put the ball in the cage during last weekend's matchup.
But even with the challenges facing them, the Cavaliers remain optimistic that they can string together another solid performance and meet their goals for the season, securing an ACC title and earning another trip to the NCAA Tournament.
"We know that we have to win every game," Weber said. "We know what we have to do, and we know what we can do and our potential."
This afternoon's clash is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. in College Park, Md. The winner will square off against No. 2 Maryland in the quarterfinals.