Fresh off of an ACC Tournament title, No. 7 Virginia looks to continue its fine form in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The final was the Cavaliers’ (15-7, 3-3 ACC) first finals berth since 2009. It was also the first ACC title ever in field hockey, an impressive accomplishment.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” junior midfielder Tara Vittese said. “It was our first ACC championship in program history. I think the team is very excited. We worked very hard for it. It was one of our goals going into the season.”
Vittese — the reigning NCAA Player of the Year — highlights a strong Virginia midfield. Vittese was also recently named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. The team’s talent does not stop there, as the Cavaliers had four of the 11 representatives for ACC all-tournament team.
Along with Vittese, Senior striker Caleigh Foust, senior midfielder Lucy Hyams and freshman defender Dominique van Slooten were members of the all-tournament team. Foust was awarded the tournament MVP for her three goals, two of which were game winners.
The road to the ACC championship was not an easy one, as Virginia faced three strong opponents. The first game, against No. 11 Boston College, was a dominating 6-3 win. Despite sputtering into halftime tied 3-3, the Cavaliers came out strong in the second and completely controlled the game. Foust scored twice, while Hyams, Vittese, freshman back Anzel Viljoen and freshman midfielder Colleen Norair each added a goal.
The Cavaliers played No. 16 Wake Forest in the semifinals. Virginia secured a hard fought 3-2 overtime victory in the game with Foust getting her second consecutive game winning goal. The second goal came off a pass from Vittese, who found the back of the net for the second straight ACC game. The first goal came from sophomore midfielder Izzy McDonough.
Virginia beat No. 4 North Carolina 4-2 in the finals. The Cavaliers started the night eight minutes into the game with a goal from freshman striker Erin Shanahan. The goal came off a corner and was Shanahan’s fourth of the year. The Tar Heels tied the game with a little over 12 minutes left in the first half.
McDonough scored just four minutes later to bring the momentum back to Virginia, for her her third goal of the season but second straight goal. The Cavaliers took the 2-1 lead into halftime. Viljoen widened that lead early in the second half off a Vittese pass. Virginia’s talent was evident throughout the tournament, as the team had seven different goal scorers.
After pulling their goalkeeper, North Carolina scored to make the game 3-2. However, Hyams solidified the victory with 8 minutes left after scoring off of a corner. The pass came from Vittese, continuing her impressive streak of assists.
“There were two minutes to go, and we had control of the ball and play,” coach Michele Madison said. “The team displayed a lot of control and confidence. Normally at the last second I would not high five anyone. They had control of the game and took care of business, so I knew we would win it.”
The Cavaliers earned confidence from their sustained level of quality play throughout the entire tournament. The season never lacked goal-scoring chances, but in the tournament Virginia was much more effective at scoring. That was evident in the tournament, as the team set an ACC Tournament record of 13 goals.
“We played so smoothly — that was probably the most impressive thing,” Madison said. “Hopefully we can do that again.”
Kentner Stadium at Wake Forest was an incredible scene once the game ended, as the entire field hockey team and coaching staff celebrated their accomplishment.
“I’m really happy for the players,” Madison said. “If you could have seem them after the game it was amazing. The smiles and the tears, after fighting for so long and so hard to get the recognition in the ACC Tournament.”
The players weren’t the only ones celebrating — Madison enjoyed herself as well. The title was a culmination of years of dedication to Virginia field hockey.
“Michele Madison has wanted this and worked so hard for it since she’s been here,” Vittese said.
The focus now is on No. 10 Michigan, the Cavaliers’ first opponent in the tournament. While Virginia has not played the Wolverines (12-7, 5-3 Big 10) this year, there are some familiar faces there.
“I know a lot about Michigan,” Madison said. “I coached the coach and coached against her for 13 years. I’m very familiar with their style of play. That will help a little bit, but at the end the players need to play.”
At the end of the day success — and even history — is what Virginia is seeking. The next test will be Saturday in State College, Penn.
“I think it's important to go into the next game against Michigan and just play our game,” Vittese said. “Play fast, poised, and controlled. The goal is to win a national championship.”