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Virginia falls to No. 2 Princeton in final home game of season

2-1 loss marks No 7. Virginia field hockey's first home loss this season

The No. 7 Virginia field hockey team concluded its regular season with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to No. 2 Princeton Sunday in what could be the final home game for the team’s senior class.

The Cavaliers (15-4, 4-1 ACC) entered the game undefeated at home , whereas the Tigers (15-1, 6-0 Ivy) came to Charlottesville perfect in road games. Something had to give, and it was Virginia who saw its streak come to an end.

“We knew that we needed to pick our game up and that we weren’t playing completely to our skill level,” senior forward Britt Knouse said. “Princeton came out with a lot of fire, and I don’t know if we were quite ready for that competitiveness. It’s good that we played them, so next time we play a team as good as them we’re ready.”

The game was originally scheduled for Monday afternoon , but concerns about the landfall of Hurricane Sandy forced the teams to play a day early. Both teams were coming off road victories the day before — Virginia at Duke and Princeton at Cornell.

“With the hurricane coming, we scheduled the game at the last minute,” coach Michele Madison said. “Both Princeton and we wanted to get the game in; we thought it would help us both with tournament preparations.”

From the opening whistle, the Tigers were determined to dictate the pace of the game, a goal they achieved with great ease. The Cavaliers found themselves playing in their own circle for much of the game, and nearly every attempt to move the ball out of the back was thwarted by the Princeton midfield.

“I wouldn’t say it was all them who shut us down, I would say it was us who shut us down,” redshirt senior midfielder Michelle Vittese said. “Our midfield is just as good as theirs, though they are a little more disciplined than we are right now.”

Princeton scored its first goal a little more than five minutes into the game. Virginia sophomore goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone and the Cavalier defense opened with a series of beautiful saves and stops, but the persistent Tiger offense was finally able to score when sophomore forward Allison Evans hit in a rebounded shot for a score.

Though Princeton controlled the ball for much of the remainder of the half, the Cavalier defense tightened up and prevented Princeton from expanding its lead. The Tigers took nine shots before the Cavaliers finally tallied their first, which came on an unassisted breakaway from redshirt senior forward Paige Selenski. Selenski’s strike in the final seconds of the half flew just right of the goal.

“In the first half, we were playing a little too tentatively,” Madison said. “We told the team that we had to attack if we wanted to win. We could lose the game 0-2, but we wouldn’t learn anything from that. We needed to attack and figure out where our strengths are.”

Princeton did not let up in the second half, but Virginia emerged from the halftime break more prepared to counter the Tigers’ efforts. Early in the second period, the Cavaliers were awarded a penalty corner. Junior back Elly Buckley nearly pulled Virginia level, but her shot went high.

The Cavaliers drew even later in the half when Selenski notched her ACC-leading 25th goal of the season. The Olympian received possession from teammate junior midfielder Carissa Vittese near midfield, sprinted past several Tiger defenders and buried the shot to make the score 1-1.

“It was just a nice, solid transfer through the midfield,” Selenski said. “[Vittese] threw it out wide, and I was able to beat my defender, dribble in the circle and get a goal.”

The Cavalier defense continued its stellar play to keep the game deadlocked for nearly 15 minutes, but the Tigers finally broke through with what would prove to the game-winning tally with less than 13 minutes remaining in the game. Princeton senior forward Kathleen Sharkey knocked in the score off a penalty corner to give the Tigers the lead for good.

Virginia played with a clear sense of desperation in the game’s final minutes, but they remained unable to advance past the talented Tiger midfield.

“Princeton is a very good team,” Vittese said. “They’re very well coached and they play together very well — we’ve just never played against a team that works that well together. I think it was a wake up call for us.”

After the game, five Cavaliers were honored as part of Senior Day. Joining Selenski, Vittese and Knouse among the senior class were goalkeeper Amanda Crider and back Phoebe Willis . Unless Virginia earns a high enough seed in the NCAA tournament, the game will be the seniors’ last at the Turf Field.

“Luckily, they have a few more games to play, but they all had great careers here,” Madison said. “They’ve done things for U.Va field hockey that no team has ever done. It’s a great class and we’re looking forward to the postseason.”

Virginia will begin ACC Tournament play Friday with a game against the winner of a Maryland-Duke matchup.