During the 2015 regular season, the Virginia field hockey team took on five opponents currently ranked in the top 10 of the NFHCA Coaches poll. Now, the No. 5 Cavaliers (13-4, 3-3 ACC) — who punched up a 3-2 record in those marquee matchups — enter the postseason, where the going will hardly get easier.
Virginia kicks off the ACC Field Hockey Championship Thursday at 11 a.m. against Duke, the nation’s No. 4 team. Whoever comes out on top will earn a date with undefeated and top-ranked Syracuse. North Carolina and Wake Forest — ranked third and sixth nationally — lurk in the bracket’s other half.
The host Cavaliers have never won an ACC tournament and last advanced to the title game in 2009, when Maryland edged Virginia 3-2 in overtime at U-Hall Turf Field. Coach Michele Madison’s team led 2-0 in that game.
Duke (12-5, 2-4 ACC), like Virginia, boasts two players named Wednesday to the All-ACC first team: seniors goalie Lauren Blazing and midfielder Aileen Johnson. Both Blazing and Johnson have made three all-conference teams, and the two have combined for three All-America nods. Blazing’s .807 save percentage is the nation’s fifth-best.
Along with Blazing, the Blue Devil defense features senior backs and All-ACC second-teamers Amanda Kim and Hannah Barreca.
Though Duke — the tournament’s fifth seed — has ceded 20 fewer goals than Virginia in 2015, the fourth-seeded Cavaliers have outscored the Blue Devils by 11. Virginia has four players with 20-plus points this season, with sophomore midfielder Tara Vittese leading the pack.
Vittese and junior midfielder Lucy Hyams earned All-ACC first-team recognition from the league’s coaches Wednesday.
Should the Cavaliers defeat Duke, they will take on Syracuse (16-0, 6-0 ACC) Friday at 1 p.m. The winner of that game will play for a conference championship Sunday at the same time. All games will be played at U-Hall Turf Field.