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Vittese leads Virginia to upset against No. 4 Maryland

Redshirt senior midfielder powers first win against Terrapins since 2001; team overcomes St. Joseph’s Sunday

History meant nothing to the No. 7 Virginia field hockey team last Friday night as it upset the two-time defending national champion No. 4 Maryland 3-2.

The Cavaliers (11-2, 2-0 ACC) had not prevailed against the Terrapins (8-2, 2-1 ACC) since 2001, and despite twice taking Virginia to the NCAA tournament semifinals, coach Michele Madison had never bested Maryland. With Friday’s break-through win, however, the Cavaliers solidified their place as contenders for an NCAA championship.

“What’s hard about our team right now is that people don’t take us seriously enough,” redshirt senior midfielder Michelle Vittese said. “This win really legitimizes our ranking and puts us out there. It’s really good for the girls, because this win is such a big confidence booster.”

Six minutes into the game, Vittese ignited the Cavaliers’ offense with an unassisted goal as she took the ball from midfield, splitting through Maryland defenders and completing the play in the circle with finesse.

“She was determined,” Madison said. “She doesn’t call herself a goal-scorer, but I think she proved that she could be tonight.”

Maryland answered later in the half when junior forward Jill Witmer found wide-open sophomore forward Katie Gerzabek, who shot the ball past sophomore goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone. The teams finished the half tied 1-1, both having tallied seven shots.

After a lengthy stalemate in the second half, the Terrapins took the lead with 20 minutes remaining. Five minutes later, rain began pouring hard as the Cavaliers came alive.

“It was so dramatic with the rain,” Vittese said. “It almost gave us a sense of enthusiasm.”
Minutes into the downpour, Vittese scored an unassisted goal almost identical to her first one. Two minutes later, redshirt senior forward Paige Selenski amazed the crowd with an unassisted goal of her own. With the lead in hand, an exhausted Cavaliers team used its remaining stamina to hold its advantage.

“That was probably the hardest lead I’ve ever been in,” Vittese said. “I was cramping and everything was hurting. It was kind of nerve-racking. I looked at the other girls and told them, ‘This is the time we can either choke or do something we’ve never done before,’ and I think those words had everyone tune in.”

Maryland held possession in Virginia territory for the majority of the game’s last 10 minutes and had multiple opportunities to score. In the span of two minutes, the Terrapins were awarded three penalty corners, but a Cavalier defense led by Vittese stopped each one.

“It was very stressful,” Johnstone said. “We had been practicing the corners that they would run against us, so we were really good at blocking them out and reading what they were going to do. Michelle Vittese got some great blocks in there as well when they adjusted, so I think we did really
well.”

With five minutes remaining in the game, Maryland pulled its goalkeeper. But even the one-man advantage was not enough as Virginia hung on for the victory. Johnstone played the complete game for Virginia and was awarded the win.

The following Sunday the Cavaliers returned to the Turf Field to take on Atlantic-10 foe St. Joseph’s. Although Virginia won 6-3, the Hawks (2-9) provided a difficult test.

“It was very, very bad,” junior back Elly Buckley said. “It wasn’t our best performance and we didn’t really stick to the game plan. It’s still a win though, so we’re happy I guess.”

Buckley scored the first Cavalier goal on a penalty corner just three minutes into the game, and Vittese extended the lead with her third unassisted goal of the weekend. In the waning moments before halftime, however, St. Joseph’s sophomore forward Nicole Gerdes scored two goals in one minute to tie the game.

“We had a good start, but we went into a lull after we went two goals up,” Madison said. “We were too soft on pressure and St. Joseph’s took advantage of it.”

In the second half, the Cavaliers stormed out with four unanswered goals: two from Selenski, one from Vittese, and one from Buckley. Virginia held the lead as time expired, but the Hawks were awarded a penalty corner with no time left on the clock, allowing them to score one last goal. The three goals for St. Joseph’s marked the team’s highest total of the season.

Freshman goalkeeper Rebecca Holden played a complete game for the Cavaliers, earning the victory with two saves and three goals allowed. The Cavaliers now ride a six-game winning streak and are tied for first place atop the ACC standings.

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