In Charlottesville this Sunday, Virginia field hockey will play its final game of the regular season.
The No. 8 Cavaliers (11-7, 3-3 ACC) have struggled lately. The team has suffered two heartbreaking defeats in the past week to No. 7 Louisville (15-2, 3-3 ACC) and No. 3 Maryland (14-3, 6-1 Big Ten).
The first defeat to the Cardinals featured overtime heroics. At the half, Virginia was trailing 2-1, but senior striker Riley Tata tied the game with 14 minutes to go. The final minutes were a battle, and as time expired, the Cavaliers were granted a penalty corner.
With an opportunity to win the game, sophomore midfielder Nikki Freeman calmly slotted the ball into the back of the net. However, this goal was negated as the ball had hit off a Virginia player’s leg. Virginia came out hot in overtime with three shots before Louisville was able shoot, but it only took one from the Cardinals to end the game. The Cardinals’ freshman striker Minout Mink scored to seal the deal.
The Cavaliers dominated this game, outshooting Louisville 22-12 and dictating the flow of the game. The emotional rollercoaster of being so close to victory and having it slip away could have demotivated the Cavaliers in their next game against Maryland, but the resilient, senior-laden team came to play against their formal ACC rivals.
After an early goal was conceded, the Cavaliers battled back to tie things up going into half.
Maryland was able score 10 minutes in the second half and, to the Cavalier faithful’s collective dismay, never relinquished their lead. Virginia dominated the game, outshooting Maryland by 13, a disparity that makes the end result that much more difficult to stomach for a team that had been trending up, having won seven of its last eight prior to the Louisville loss.
“Each game is a learning experience and we learned a lot from the losses that we had,” Tata said.
If the Cavaliers wish to succeed in the ACC Tournament, they will need to capitalize on the chances that they are able to create.
With this tournament just around the corner, the game against No. 17 James Madison (11-4, 3-2 CAA) could easily be overlooked.
“Virginia teams are always good to play,” Tata said. “JMU always brings a fight.”
It seems unlikely that Virginia will overlook such a talented instate rival, especially on Senior Night. The seniors will want to end their careers on a high note. A win in this game could give the team the momentum it needs before entering a tournament where emotions from one game can carry over to another.
“We’re just, at this point, focusing on our strengths and what we’ve built up this entire season,” senior midfielder Macy Peebles said.
The experienced Virginia team knows what it can and cannot do. They will not break their identity and will continue to create great chances. The key for this team is to be able to finish on the opportunities they do create and to sure up some of their weaknesses.
“There’s so much room to get better,” coach Michele Madison said. “Even though you’re good, you’re not great, and we want to be great.”
To achieve greatness, the Cavaliers cannot lose for the rest of the season. They know that they have a tough opponent waiting for them in No. 11 Boston College (9-7, 3-3 ACC) in the first round of the ACC Tournament, but taking the Dukes lightly in their final game could result in a painful three-game losing streak to close out the season.
Dropping three straight heading into the ACC Tournament is less than ideal, so securing a win in this game would be instrumental to building the Cavaliers’ momentum.
“It’s all or nothing,” Peebles said.
This team knows what is at stake and will want to catch fire now so they can make a deep run in not only the ACC but also the NCAA Tournament. A win against James Madison is a step in the right direction.
Face-off is set for Sunday at 1 p.m in Charlottesville.