The No. 5 Virginia field hockey team will host ACC rival No. 25 Wake Forest in its penultimate home game of the season.
The Cavaliers (13-3, 2-1 ACC) come off an overtime 3-2 loss to No. 1 North Carolina, a game Virginia led for most of the second half. The contest marked just the second time all season the Tar Heels (15-1, 4-0 ACC) had even faced overtime and the fifth time all year they had allowed at least two goals.
“We proved we could play against the now No. 1 team in the country,” coach Michele Madison said. “When you play against the best team you really see what you need to work on, so we’ll take that and build on it.”
Although heralded for their scoring offense, which ranks fourth in Division I, the Cavaliers defense played a critical role against the Tar Heels. Entering the match, North Carolina had averaged a nation-best 5.0 goals per game, but Virginia held them to a single goal until the game’s final five minutes. The Tar Heels only found the equalizer after pulling their goalie, and eventually finished the comeback in overtime.
“I thought our defense played really well that game,” junior back Chloe Pendlebury said. “We actually just marked out one of their top goal scorers with [junior midfielder] Katie Robinson. We did that the whole game and pretty much denied them the ball.”
The loss was the Cavaliers’ first since Sept. 8 and snapped an eight-game winning streak, but the team still views it more as a chance to grow than a crushing defeat.
“I feel like the game brought us down to earth,” Pendlebury said. “It’s always kind of good to have one of those losses mid-season so you know what you need to work on. From that game we actually learned a bit from UNC and how they play overtime, so next time we’ll be out prepared for them.”
Senior forward Britt Knouse made her first appearance of the season for the Cavaliers last Saturday after sitting out the majority of the season with a knee injury. Knouse started 19 of the Cavaliers’ 20 games in 2011 and contributed eight goals and five assists. She was the second leading point contributor on the team behind junior back Elly Buckley.
“It felt good coming back,” Knouse said. “It’s my senior year and it’s nice to come back. The team has put us in a very good position, and I’d just like to help contribute to that now.”
Although Wake Forest (7-8, 1-2 ACC) is one of the ACC’s weaker teams, the Cavaliers cannot afford to overlook any conference opponent. The top two teams in the conference receive first round byes in the ACC tournament, and after last week’s loss, the Cavaliers will likely have to win out in conference games to be eligible.
“Wake is definitely a good team,” Knouse said. “They’re very competitive in the ACC and they actually almost beat UNC as well. They’re going to be a tough team to beat, and we can’t take any team lightly anymore.”
The Demon Deacons nearly mounted a comeback against the Tar Heels after holding them scoreless in the second half. Junior forward Jess McFadyen leads the Wake Forest offense with .62 goals per game, the conference’s 10th-best average. The team also ranks fourth in the conference in goals per game and fifth in goals allowed per game.
“Wake Forest is always good,” Madison said. “They’re not getting the results they want, but they’ve been coming close. They’re always ready to play and I expect they will be against us.”
The game is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Turf Field, where the Cavaliers are a perfect 8-0 and score an average 6.4 goals while allowing just 1.4.