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Virginia field hockey heads to Boston for weekend doubleheader

Team opens ACC play against Boston College, faces Boston University two days later

The No. 7 Virginia field hockey will travel north to the Boston area this weekend to face two ranked opponents in the span of three days.

The Cavaliers (7-2) open up ACC play Friday at No. 22 Boston College, and then after one day of rest they will challenge No. 7 Boston University Sunday. Fortunately for Virginia, the six days off since last week’s game against Miami of Ohio represent the longest stretch of rest the Cavaliers have seen all season and will help in preparing for the busy weekend.

“This will let us focus on the things we need to work on, that’s for sure,” coach Michele Madison said last week of the extra practice time. “We’ll really be able to break down conditioning, defensive work and skill work — all the things that make you better during a game — in a structured situation.”

This will be the second road trip of the year pitting the Cavaliers against two ranked opponents in one weekend. Earlier this month, the team traveled to East Lansing, Mich. where they beat then-No. 20 Michigan State in overtime, but fell to then-No. 14 Northeastern the following day.

“I think we’re prepared for the trip,” junior midfielder Carissa Vittese said. “When we went up to Michigan State we faced two ranked teams and ended up losing to Northeastern, but this time I think we’re a little more prepared. We also have a day in between the games this trip, so we’ll have some time to recover.”

The Cavaliers currently rank first in the country in goals per game at 4.78 and second in assists per game at 3.78. Redshirt senior Paige Selenski’s 4.5 points per game ranks second in the country, and junior back Elly Buckley and sophomore forward Rachel Sumfest join Selenksi in the nation’s top 20 for the category.

Despite having one of the most dominating attacks in the country, the Cavaliers are looking to improve in one key offensive area — penalty corners. In the last four games, Virginia has only been able to convert two of their 25 penalty corners into goals.

“We’ve been working a lot on corners,” Vittese said. “In the past couple of games we haven’t been scoring on them and executing them properly, so we’re working on that to score more goals.”

Boston College (4-4) is the lowest ranked team in the ACC and has lost four of its last five games, but as the Cavaliers found last year, every conference opponent should be taken seriously. Virginia lost four of its five regular season games against conference opponents in 2011, including a 5-4 loss to the Eagles in double overtime. With only five conference games, every contest will prove crucial for ACC tournament seeding.

“If we finish top-two in the conference, we get a bye in the first round, so it’s so important,” Selenski said. “We’ll need to win every [ACC] game this season to get one of those seeds. We need to be ready and on top of it for every game.”

Boston College enters the match averaging 2.12 goals per game and 1.25 assists per outing, both fewer than Virginia. Defensively, the Eagles hold a slight edge over the Cavaliers in goals allowed per game, 1.75 to 1.78. The Boston College attack is led by sophomore midfielder Emma Plasteras and junior midfielder Nicole Shuster, who each have two goals and three assists on the year. At the defensive end, freshman goalkeeper Leah Settipane boosts the Eagles with her ACC-leading 34 saves.

“The ACC is so strong and every game is really hard fought,” Selenski said. “We have to be both mentally and physically prepared … We know that [Boston College] is a very physical team and that they work very hard. They’re capable of really doing anything — they were up 3-0 against [No. 4] Maryland. We really need to be prepared for anything they throw at us.”

Boston University (6-2) enters the game as one of the top defensive squads in the nation. The Terriers rank No. 11 in the nation in goals allowed per game, aided in part by sophomore goalkeeper Valentina Cerda, whose save percentage of 80 percent is the sixth best in the country. Boston University has lost two of its last three contests, first to undefeated No. 2 Syracuse and then to William & Mary, whom the Cavaliers shut out last week in Williamsburg.

“BU has a lot of new talent from overseas,” Madison said. “They play well together for sure. They can attack on a moment’s notice, so we always have to be ready and anticipate it.”

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