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No. 5 Virginia, No. 2 North Carolina collide in marquee matchup

ACC's top teams bring eight-, 12-game winning streaks, respectively, to nationally televised matchup

	<p>Sophomore Rachel Sumfest</p>

Sophomore Rachel Sumfest

The No. 5 Virginia field hockey team faces its most challenging opponent this season as it travels to Chapel Hill for a nationally broadcast showdown against No. 2 North Carolina Saturday.

“North Carolina is one of the top teams in the country right now,” coach Michele Madison said. “They’re having a lot of success. They can score and we can score, so it’s going to be a battle to see who can make the least amount of errors.”

Virginia (13-2, 2-0 ACC) has been unstoppable recently, winning eight straight games including five against top-25 opponents. Four of those victories were shutouts. Last weekend, the Cavaliers outscored their two opponents by a combined score of 11-0. The Cavaliers in their last outing laid a 7-0 beating on No. 19 New Hampshire, a team that had not conceded more than three goals in any previous game this season.

“Every game we work on building our system more and more,” sophomore forward Rachel Sumfest said. “We’re judging our progress by how we are playing, and not by the result of these games. I think that the eight-game winning streak is helping us build on ourselves leading up to North Carolina.”

The Cavaliers have already fared well against a pair of stellar teams this season. In early September Virginia knocked off then-No. 3 Old Dominion, and the team upset then-No. 3 Maryland just two weeks ago. Both victories were decided by one goal.

“The Maryland [game] prepared us in terms of pace and tempo,” redshirt senior midfielder Michelle Vittese said. “Teams like ODU are the same way, but Maryland is a much more comparable opponent in terms of preparing for UNC. They have the same skill sets and the same type of discipline.”

North Carolina (14-1, 3-0 ACC), however, could prove more potent than the Monarchs or Terrapins. The Tar Heels have been ranked second or higher in national polls all season, and their only loss came at the hands of No. 1 Syracuse.

“North Carolina is very disciplined, very skilled and highly organized,” Vittese said. “They’ve been very well-coached for a very long time. The players going through there have all been on the same page, and they all work really hard to achieve their goals together.”

The Tar Heels have in recent years come out ahead in their annual ACC battle against Virginia. They have defeated the Cavaliers four years in a row. Three of those games, however, were decided by just one goal.

Since North Carolina’s loss at Syracuse, the squad has won 12 straight games, six against ranked opponents. During their streak, the Tar Heels have averaged 5.0 goals a game and have given up just 1.0 per contest. North Carolina ranks first in the nation in goals per game and third in goals against. Their schedule, though, has not been as treacherous as the one the Cavaliers have endured.

“Playing the best teams and having the strongest schedule possible can’t do anything but help you,” Sumfest said. “Teams like Maryland, ODU and other top programs have a different tempo. If we can get that tempo and keep pushing it like we have been, it’s really going to help us carrying further into the season.”

The Cavaliers and the Tar Heels share the top spots in the ACC in nearly every statistical category. The teams rank one-two in scoring margin, shutouts, shots, goals and assists. The top seven individual point scorers all hail from the two powerhouses.

Redshirt senior forward Paige Selenski leads the ACC with 52 points, and North Carolina senior midfielder Kelsey Kolojejchick trails in second at 42 points. Sumfest, junior back Elly Buckley and Vittese for Virginia and sophomore forward Charlotte Craddock and senior forward Jaclyn Gaudioso Radvany for North Carolina round out the rest of the top seven.

North Carolina has been racking up accolades: four Tar Heels have earned ACC Player of the Week honors this season, including Kolojejchick, Craddock, Gaudioso Radvany and sophomore back Samantha Travers. Selenski and Vittese have also received the award this season. Players from North Carolina and Virginia have accounted for seven of the eight weekly winners thus far.

“On paper it looks like there will be a lot of goals,” Madison said. “That should make for an exciting game.”

The game is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. in Chapel Hill and will be broadcast on ESPN3.