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No. 7 Cavs visit Blue Devils

Players crave second straight win against Duke; Selenski could tie program’s all-time points record

The No. 7 Virginia field hockey team wraps up regular-season ACC play this weekend with a matchup against struggling No. 22 Duke.

The Cavaliers (14-3, 3-1 ACC) come off a decisive victory against Wake Forest, a win that alongside a defeat of then-No. 4 Maryland secured the second seed for Virginia in the ACC tournament.
Despite the victory, the Cavaliers mysteriously dropped two spots in the rankings and were even overtaken by Maryland.

“It’s just a coaches’ poll,” coach Michele Madison said. “It has no statistical significance. I guess that’s just where the coaches in America think we belong.”

Because the Cavaliers can move neither up nor down in the ACC standings after last Saturday’s game, the result of the matchup with Duke (7-9, 0-4 ACC) will not impact the Cavaliers’ positioning for the ACC tournament next week. Redshirt senior midfielder Michelle Vittese said she will not use the team’s secure ranking as an excuse to give anything less than her full effort.

“I don’t ever want to go into a game and lose,” Vittese said. “I’m looking more towards this NCAA tournament with this game. If we lose, that’s a loss still on our record for seeding purposes.”

Also adding intrigue to the contest is redshirt senior forward Paige Selenski’s quest to tie Virginia great Meridith Thorpe for the program’s all-time career point record. Selenski stands one shy of Thorpe’s record of 230 career points with two regular season games and the postseason still to go. She is likely to shatter the mark that has remained untouched for nearly 15 years.

“Paige plays the same way every game,” Madison said. “She does everything possible to score goals since she came here as a freshman. The record may inspire her, but she scores goals because she wants the team to win.”

The game will also showcase a near-complete reversal of roles for the two teams as compared to last year’s ACC regular season finale. In 2011, the then-No. 6 Blue Devils fell to a Virginia team that, despite starting the season ranked third, had fallen from the standings entirely. This year, Duke is the team failing to meet expectations — the Blue Devils were ranked No. 5 in the preseason poll but have since plummeted. Like the 2011 Cavaliers, the 2012 Blue Devils have yet to win a conference game.

“It’s always the last game of our ACC seasons, so it’s competitive every single year,” Madison said. “Both teams bring everything they have.”

Though Duke has struggled this season, the squad is showing signs of righting the ship. Two weeks ago the Blue Devils dropped from the rankings entirely after losing their fourth conference game to Maryland. The team moved back in after winning 1-0 at James Madison. The Blue Devils then sustained an extremely close game against No. 9 Old Dominion, falling 3-2.

One factor in Duke’s struggles has been the disruption to the lineup with six Blue Devils competing in the Junior Pan American Games, four of whom starred for the bronze medal-winning Team USA and two of whom competed for silver medalist Canada.

“Duke had six players fortunate enough to compete in the Pan Am’s, but since they had so many players out for such a long time they had trouble finding the time to play together and win as a team,” Vittese said. “I think they just started coming together nicely towards the end of the season when it’s really important.”

Half of the players lost were either goalkeepers or defenders. On offense, the Blue Devils are led by junior forward Emmie Le Marchand, whose 0.69 goals a game is good for second in the conference. As a team, Duke ranks second-to-last in the conference with 1.5 goals per game.

Despite the apparent mismatch between the two sides, the Cavaliers are preparing for battle.

“Duke is an ACC school, so obviously it will be a very tough game,” junior midfielder Katie Robinson said. “I haven’t heard too much about them, which is a good thing because it will allow me to just focus on playing.”

Duke will represent the fourth of five ranked opponents the Cavaliers have faced to round out their regular season. The team is hoping the brutal stretch will help their prospects down the road in tournament play.

“When you get to the post season, you have to be very on top of your game,” Robinson said. “These opponents will get us focused.”

The match is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Saturday.