The No. 6 Virginia field hockey team will attempt to carry its recent home success into a key road trip to East Lansing, Mich. this weekend, as they battle No. 20 Michigan State and No. 14 Northeastern.
Since producing mixed results in their first two games, the Cavaliers (4-1) have won three straight contests at home, including a win against then-No. 3 Old Dominion, all while out-scoring opponents 25-5.
“There’s been a dramatic improvement from where we were in the first two games to where we are now,” redshirt senior Paige Selenski said. “If we keep building like this, game by game, I think we’re going to be in a really good position come postseason.”
Though it’s still early in the season, the Cavaliers are dominating every offensive statistical category in the ACC so far. Virginia leads the conference in shots, goals and assists. Individually, redshirt senior forward Paige Selenski, junior Elly Buckley and sophomore forward Rachel Sumfest rank first, second and third, respectively, for points scored.
“It’s a team game,” coach Michelle Madison said. “We just use the team to build the attack. We have the threat of the long ball and the build-up through the middle, so once we recognize what’s available we can move the ball and put [ourselves] in scoring position.”
Selenski, who leads all ACC players in every offensive statistical category, earned ACC Player of the Week Honors Tuesday. Last week, Selenski racked up 23 points off nine goals and five assists. She also netted two game-winning goals, and her 10-point night last Wednesday against Towson was the fourth-highest single game total in conference history.
“Paige has been mixing it up,” Madison said. “You can see by her goals and assists that she knew when to attack the space and when to pass.”
The Cavaliers hope to continue their winning ways as they attempt to erase the memories of their first road trip this season. Virginia went 1-1 on that swing, narrowly edging out Temple in overtime and falling to then-No. 9 Penn State. This time around, Virginia will have the full services of Selenksi and fellow Olympian redshirt senior Michelle Vittese, who were forced to sit out the Temple game because of an NCAA rule.
Even with the duo’s return against the Nittany Lions, the Cavaliers’ lack of cohesion within their newly whole lineup was evident.
“We’ve definitely grown a lot since the Penn State loss,” Buckley said. “We just had to get over it and focus on our next game. We just had to put it behind us.”
Meanwhile, Friday’s opponent, Michigan State (3-1), started its season off with three ranked opponents in four games, falling only to No. 17 Boston College. The Spartans’ strong start earned them enough recognition to be voted into the NFHCA Coach’s Poll rankings for the first time since the 2011 preseason. The Spartans feature a stingy defense allowing less than one goal per game. By comparison, Virginia is conceding 2.2 goals a game, a figure which has drawn the Cavaliers’ attention. Madison said her primary concern is curbing the Spartan offense, rather than breaking down Michigan State’s stalwart defense.
“They’ll be prepared,” Madison said of Michigan State. “They’ll be an attacking team and will drive the ball forward.”
Saturday, Virginia takes on Northeastern (3-0), which is one of only five ranked teams still sporting a perfect record. Two of the Huskies’ wins have come against other ranked opponents. Most recently the team knocked off Dartmouth 4-1, with senior Crystal Poland leading the way with a hat trick, the fifth of her career. Poland was awarded her fourth career CAA Player of the Week honor after the performance.
“Northeastern is a really solid team,” Selenski said. “We’re really going to have to bring what we brought [against Old Dominion] to the field. We’re going to be on a field that we’re not used to, so we’ll have to work extra hard to counter any advantage they get.”
One disadvantage working against Virginia will be the short turnaround between playing the Spartans at 3 p.m. Friday and the Huskies at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“To get the team ready for [this weekend], the challenge will be back-to-back games,” Madison said. “We’ll need to get immediate relief, get a quick dinner, have a quick meeting, get breakfast the next day, then play. This is not a social trip by any means. It’s all business.”