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Virginia faces Louisville in ACC regular season finale

Cavaliers riding a three-game winning streak

<p>Junior midfielder Tara Vittese had a hand in all four Cavalier goals in the 4-1 win against Richmond.</p>

Junior midfielder Tara Vittese had a hand in all four Cavalier goals in the 4-1 win against Richmond.

The Virginia field hockey team is set to play its final ACC regular-season game Friday in Charlottesville. The No. 9 Cavaliers (11-5, 3-2 ACC) head into the contest in impressive form, having won seven of their last eight games, including their last three straight.

Virginia’s most recent victory came against Richmond. Junior midfielder Tara Vittese led the way for Virginia and was a part of every goal in the 4-1 win.

The Cavaliers scored two goals in each half on their way to victory. The first came on a penalty stroke goal by Vittese, but it was followed shortly after by the Spiders’ (6-8, 4-2 A-10) lone goal. Virginia went into halftime up 2-1 after a tap in by senior striker Riley Tata off a Vittese shot.

The Cavaliers started the second half strong with another Vittese-Tata combo goal. Tata finished a nice shot off of a pass from Vittese. The final goal came after Vittese skillfully dribbled through four Richmond defenders before scoring on an empty net. The Spiders had taken out their goalie with 16:49 remaining in the game.

“It was the first time this season an opponent took their goalie out against us so that was really interesting to play against,” senior back Emily Faught said. “I thought we did a pretty good job overall.”

Virginia controlled the game in every aspect, outshooting its opponent 15-1 in the first half and 23-2 in the whole game. The Cavaliers had 10 penalty corners while Richmond did not have any. The win followed an incredibly important 1-0 overtime victory against No. 3 Syracuse (12-2, 4-2 ACC) last Saturday.

“I thought we played really well,” sophomore striker Greta Ell said. “It was awesome to come off a huge win against Syracuse and do that. We were just focusing on having really high energy and playing our games.”

The win over Syracuse was arguably the Cavaliers’ biggest of the year. It was the team’s fourth overtime game of the year and third overtime win.

The Cavaliers’ next opponent, No. 7 Louisville (13-3, 2-3 ACC), is also playing good hockey. The Cardinals are riding a three-game win streak as well heading into Charlottesville. Their most recent marquee victory also came in a 1-0 win over a top-five team, No. 4 North Carolina (12-3, 3-2 ACC).

“We’re excited for Louisville,” Fought said. “It’s going to be an interesting game, especially since they just beat UNC and we just beat Syracuse.”

Louisville and Virginia are two similar teams — both big ACC schools who have done well in recent years.

“We’re a little nervous for Louisville,” Ell said. “It is a very equally matched game. As long as we use our speed and energy, I think we will have a really good game.”

The game could potentially have major implications on the ACC regular season title. If Virginia wins and North Carolina beats No. 2 Duke (13-2, 4-1 ACC), there will be a four-way tie for the title between the Cavaliers, the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils and the Orange. If Duke beats North Carolina they will be crowned outright ACC champions. It is the second matchup between those two teams, with the Tar Heels winning the first 3-2.

“I didn’t know we had a shot to tie for the ACC regular season title,” Fought said. “We are just focusing on each game and doing well as we can. Our record is 11-5 right now so it would be really good to finish 14-5. ACC postseason will be huge for us.”

That sentiment has become a norm for the Cavaliers. After a rocky start, the team as a whole decided to take the rest of the season one day at a time. They focused on each practice and each game and didn’t get ahead of themselves.

“If we have positive energy, focus on our game and [do] not let anything get in our way we should do well come postseason,” Ell said.

Fought portrayed the same mentality when asked about what the team needs to improve on before the postseason.

“I think we have to stay focused heading into the postseason and take one game at a time,” she said.

With three games left in the season and potentially many postseason games yet to be played, the most important part of the season begins Friday against the Cardinals.

“We need to just play some good hockey,” Ell said.

The game is set to start Friday at 5:30 p.m.