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Cavalier field hockey squad meets Miami of Ohio for home mid-season clash

Virginia welcomes Red Hawks to Turf Field as it readies for rigorous conference schedule ahead

After nearly two weeks on the road, the No. 9 Virginia field hockey team returns to familiar blue turf Saturday to host Miami of Ohio.

“It’s definitely better playing at home,” junior midfielder Carissa Vittese said. “You get the fans behind you and all the noise from the crowd.”

A lot has happened since the last Cavalier home game. Virginia (6-2) rose as high as No. 6 in national rankings after beating then-No. 3 Old Dominion but fell three spots after splitting a pair of games last weekend in East Lansing. The team bounced back Tuesday with a shutout win against in-state rival William & Mary.

“I saw composure under pressure,” coach Michele Madison said on the game. “William & Mary put a lot of pressure — running and chasing and putting pressure on the ball carrier — and once we got our composure we were able to handle that.”

The NCAA released its first nationally aggregated statistics for the year Monday, revealing Virginia redshirt senior forward Paige Selenski atop the country in points per game with 5.00. Selenski also ranks first in assists per game and third in goals per game. Teammate junior back Elly Buckley joins her in the national top five for points per game and goals per game.

Saturday’s match is Virginia’s last game before beginning ACC play. With the return of Selenski and redshirt senior midfielder Michelle Vittese this season after they took a year off to play with the U.S. National Team, the 2012 Cavalier offense has at times been unstoppable. But while the team appears to have the pieces in place for a big season, work remains to be done.

“We’re definitely progressing every game,” sophomore forward Rachel Sumfest said. “I think that with Michele and Paige back our ball speed and pace is still getting faster. As long as we stick to our system, play for each other and commit ourselves to pushing forward, we’ll get to where we want to be.”

The difference between the Cavaliers’ play on the road and at home has been night and day. At Turf Field Virginia has outscored opponents 25-5, but they hold a much closer 12-10 margin in away games. Much of the disparity, however, can be attributed to a favorable home schedule and grueling road tests. In their five out-of-town games, the Cavaliers have won three and lost two, with two of those victories coming via overtime. Three of those five contests were against ranked opponents.

“It is a little tiring,” sophomore back Maddie DeCerbo said. “Playing at home with the fan base is really fun, but we try to make the best of the trips and get each other pumped up either way.”

Meanwhile, Miami (2-4) is enjoying a minor resurgence after a dismal start to the season, during which the team lost four consecutive games to ranked opponents and totaled only one goal during the stretch. The RedHawks have since scored six goals on Longwood, and they finally earned a victory against a top-25 team by knocking off Ohio State.

“[Miami] can move the ball around the field well, and they’re opportunistic,” Madison said. “They have good structure moving the ball out of the back. And they have a very impressive goalkeeper.”

Miami can credit its goalie, Sarah Mueller, for much of its recent success. The junior ranks ninth nationally in saves per game and recorded 10 saves against the then-No. 23 Buckeyes, including three saves in the game’s final 10 minutes.

The Cavaliers have never lost to Miami and defeated the RedHawks 2-1 last season. Virginia will attempt to continue the streak when the teams tip off at 11 a.m. Saturday.