Opening play with a 7-2 overall record and 3-2 in the ACC, Virginia has started its 2021 campaign about as well as it could have asked. Sitting as the number eight team in the country, the Cavaliers have displayed variety on both offense and defense, with emerging stars and veteran stalwarts establishing a team ready to make a deep postseason run.
Despite Coach Julie Myers' terrific start to the season, the Cavaliers have run into problems when they face off against top-tier teams. Their two losses were against top-10 teams, coming against ACC rivals Boston College and Duke, whom the Cavaliers defeated in a second game, and this raises questions about the team’s capability to win games on a higher level. In the two losses, Virginia was outscored a combined 37-19, whereas the six victories on the season saw the Cavaliers dominate its opponents 108-60 in goal scoring. It has been a tale of two teams in the 2021 season, and if the Cavaliers want to make a run in the postseason, they must be able to hold their own against the top teams in the country.
Luckily for Virginia, a high level opponent in James Madison awaits them on the schedule. Looking to rebuild a team that won a national championship in 2018, beating this year's Dukes team is no easy task. James Madison’s variety of offense has proven to be difficult to contain, scoring 83 team goals through just six games this season. They field nine players with six goals or more, and are led by the duo of sophomore attacker Kasey Knobloch and redshirt freshman attacker Isabella Peterson, who have 10 and 11 goals on the season, respectively.
Defensively, the Dukes have been stellar all season. They have allowed just 40 goals through six games, 15 of which came against a powerhouse in No. 1 North Carolina. Their defensive unit is led by senior defender Emma Johnson, who has been a Swiss army knife on that side of the field for Coach Shelley Klaes Bawcombe. Johnson has accounted for 15 ground balls to go with 11 caused turnovers against one turnover herself. She is a reliable defensive presence for redshirt junior goalkeeper Molly Dougherty, who has a 54 percent save percentage and just 6.43 goals allowed per game on the season.
If the Cavaliers want to break the Dukes, they will need a strong offensive effort. Fortunately for Virginia, the offensive unit represents a diverse group of goal scorers who can put balls in the net at a high clip. The Cavaliers are led by their star veteran duo, junior attacker Ashlyn McGovern and junior attacker Lillie Kloak. The pair have combined for 40 goals in just nine games, with Kloak accounting for 22 and McGovern 18.
The offensive unit does not stop with the aforementioned attack duo. Myers’ squad has five other goal scorers with at least 10 goals, including three freshmen. Freshman midfielder Maggie Bostain has 10 goals, while freshman midfielder Mackenzie Hoeg has contributed 11 goals to go with eight assists. Further adding on to Virginia’s depth, freshman attacker Morgan Schwab has 10 goals with seven assists. Additionally, junior midfielder Annie Dyson has 12 goals on the year.
However, the unsung hero for the Cavaliers has been senior attacker Taylor Regan, who has the most points on the team with 26 points, comprising 14 goals and 12 assists, often dodging from behind the goal and using swift footwork to beat her defender and score.
On the other end of the field, Virginia’s defense has proven to be capable of holding offenses in check. The unit is led by High Point transfer graduate student defender Meredith Chapman, who has 20 ground balls to go with 10 caused turnovers. In goal is senior goalkeeper Charlie Campbell, who has had an up and down season, allowing 15 or more goals twice, while also holding her opponents to under 10 goals four times.
Recent history suggests that the Cavaliers have the upper hand on the Dukes. Over their past seven contests, Virginia sports a 5-2 record against their in-state rival, with both defeats suffered during James Madison’s championship campaign.
A major storyline in this matchup will be how quickly the Cavaliers start offensively. This season, of the Cavaliers’ 127 goals, 77 have come in the first half, while only 50 have come in the second half. While this may be attributed to Virginia jumping ahead early on and slowing the tempo down late in most games, either way the Cavaliers have not had much experience pushing the tempo late in games. The lone buck in this trend came in Virginia’s last game against Duke. The Cavaliers scored just four goals in the first half, before roaring back to score 10 in the second.
Despite Virginia’s stellar second half performance against the Blue Devils, they should not count on doing it again. Should the Cavaliers struggle to create offense in the first half and fall behind, it will be tough to make late game runs against a stingy and seasoned James Madison defense.
Another key factor to note is that this will be just the Cavaliers’ third game on the road all season. They are 1-1 away from Charlottesville and have been outscored 29-26 on the road.
If the Cavaliers want to continue their hot streak against the Dukes, they will need production from both their offensive and defensive units, as James Madison has been stellar on both sides of the ball all season.
The Cavaliers will face off against the Dukes March 26th at 5 p.m. in Harrisonburg, Va. Broadcast information is to be determined.