The Virginia field hockey program won its first-ever conference title Sunday in Winston-Salem, N.C. at Wake Forest’s Kentner Stadium. The championship was the culmination of a few impressive stats, including the No. 7 Cavaliers’ (15-7, 3-3 ACC) first ACC final since 2009, and — as the sixth seed — being the lowest-seeded team ever to win the conference tournament.
The win also guarantees Virginia a bid in the NCAA tournament as the ACC’s automatic bid representative. It will be the Cavaliers’ 21st appearance in the tournament and the ninth under coach Michele Madison during her 11-season tenure.
The run to the tournament title included wins over No. 11 Boston College (10-9, 3-3 ACC), No. 19 Wake Forest (11-8, 0-6 ACC) and No. 5 North Carolina (17-5, 3-3 ACC).
The Cavaliers dominated the first game against the Eagles, 6-3. Senior midfielder Lucy Hyams, junior midfielder Tara Vittese, freshman back Anzel Viljoen and freshman midfielder Colleen Norair each scored once while senior striker Caleigh Foust scored twice. The teams were tied 3-3 at half before the Cavaliers took over the second period.
However, the semifinal game against the Demon Deacons proved to be more of a challenge — going into overtime before Virginia eventually won, 3-2. Foust delivered her second-straight game winner, this one off an assist from Vittese. Sophomore midfielder Izzy McDonough and Vittese scored the Cavaliers’ other goals.
Against the Tar Heels, Virginia opened the scoring eight minutes into the game when freshman striker Erin Shanahan capitalized on a corner — her fourth goal of the year. With a little over 12 minutes left in the first half, North Carolina tied the game at one.
But, Virginia responded with an important goal that regained momentum as McDonough netted her third goal of the season. Virginia shared the scoring load well down in Winston-Salem, as Viljoen got her second goal of the tournament early in the second half off a pass from Vittese. In the three-game run, the Cavaliers had six different goal scorers, highlighting their tremendous depth.
The Tar Heels kept fighting and brought the game to within one goal with about 10 minutes remaining after pulling their goalkeeper. However, just two minutes later, Hyams cemented the victory for Virginia by scoring on the empty cage on a corner off a pass from none other than Vittese.
Virginia, a team that had created numerous chances the entire season, finally capitalized at a truly effective clip. Scoring 13 goals over three games, the Cavaliers set a tournament record — defeating the previous record of 10.
Virginia’s impressive play was duly rewarded in the all-tournament team. The Cavaliers had four of the 11 representatives — the most out of any team — in Foust, Hyams, Vittese and freshman defender Dominique van Slooten.
Foust earned the honor of being tournament MVP after scoring three goals, two of which were game winners, and Vittese was named ACC Offensive player of the year just a week ago. Both awards shows how the Cavalier team is deeply talented.
"It's amazing to see their smiles and their tears of joy and you really see how much it means to them,” Madison said. “To see the hard work and sacrifice to build the belief, because it's hard to have the belief when you've never done it before. They found it somewhere deep inside to believe everything was possible.”
The Cavaliers will look to continue their momentum as the first round of the NCAA Tournament begins Nov. 12.