No. 7 Virginia field hockey traveled to Lynchburg on Tuesday to take on No. 16 Liberty, winning 2-1. The Flames (10-6, 6-0 Big East) scored in the first quarter for an early lead, but the Cavaliers (10-5, 3-3 ACC) fought back fiercely, earning an 11-1 advantage in penalty corners and 13-7 advantage in shots. Ultimately, a deflection goal by senior midfielder Adele Iacobucci in the last five minutes of play gave Virginia the edge to pick up the road win.
Virginia then traveled to Chapel Hill, N.C. Friday afternoon to play its last conference game of the season against No. 1 North Carolina. The Cavaliers (10-5, 3-3 ACC) fought back hard against the Tar Heels (13-0, 5-0 ACC) but were unable to close the gap and fell 3-1, with North Carolina remaining unbeaten.
Virginia vs. Liberty
The first quarter started strong for the Cavaliers, picking up two penalty corners and tallying three shots in the first five minutes. Both shots off of the corners — taken by senior back Cato Geusgens and sophomore midfielder Noa Boterman –– were blocked by Liberty’s solid defense, which prior to facing Virginia had not conceded a goal off of a corner.
Toward the end of the quarter, Liberty was finally able to materialize some offense, drawing a corner with about two minutes left in the period. Senior defender Jodie Conolly fired the ball past freshman goalkeeper Jet Trimborn into the bottom right of the goal, capitalizing on the Flames’ only corner of the game and putting them on the scoreboard first.
The Cavaliers came into the second quarter strong, looking for the equalizer. They found it 2:23 into the period with a penalty corner. The ball was inserted to Boterman, who sent a quick pass to Geusgens. With the defense closing in, Geusgens sent the ball immediately back to Boterman who fired a quick shot that slipped over the stick of a Liberty defender and past junior goalkeeper Azul Iritxity Irigoyen.
Virginia’s offensive charge continued through the second quarter, earning three more penalty corners and taking five shots, but none were able to find the goal and the teams entered halftime tied at one goal apiece.
The second half of the game was much more evenly matched, with both teams tallying four shots and looking for the game-winner.
A shot by senior forward Laura Janssen almost gave Virginia the advantage, but junior midfielder Reagan Underwood was able to get a stick in front of it and earn her second career defensive save.
Liberty was afforded an opportunity of their own later in the quarter, but was also unable to capitalize as the shot from Underwood went wide and there was no player on the post to attempt a deflection.
In the final quarter, Virginia fought hard to pull ahead. The Cavaliers were finally able to capitalize on their third penalty corner of the period. Boterman fired a rocket down the middle of Liberty’s circle. Iacobucci, stationed at the stroke position, got a stick in front of the shot and deflected it up into the net for the game-winning goal.
With 1:33 left in play, a yellow card on Boterman gave the Flames a one-man advantage for the remainder of the game. The Virginia defense held strong, however, and did not allow LIberty any offensive headway to hold on to the win.
“Liberty is a very strong defensive corner team,” Coach Michele Madison said. “We had opportunities there. The goalie made saves. Field players made saves. And then we had a mix-up on our corner defense and got the goal against us where the post player would normally be an easy ball. But they didn’t back down . . . They believed they could do it. When you dominate possession, you feel like you can make something happen.”
Virginia vs. North Carolina
The first period began with an offensive attack from Virginia. Within the first minute, Janssen got a shot off towards North Carolina’s goal. Although it was blocked by the Tar Heels’ defense, Janssen’s shot led to a penalty corner for the Cavaliers and another opportunity to score. Junior midfielder Meghen Hengerer sent the ball in to Iacobucci, but she could not find the back of the net as her shot was stopped by North Carolina sophomore goalkeeper Abigail Taylor.
Although the first period showed great potential for the Cavaliers, the possession shifted as the Tar Heels forced their way down the sidelines and into their attacking third of the field. The first goal of the game occurred 5:19 into the first quarter from a penalty corner for North Carolina. With a pass in from North Carolina freshman midfielder Ashley Sessa, freshman midfielder Sietske Brüning’s shot got past Virginia’s Trimborn and put North Carolina on the board.
On an offensive run within the last four minutes of the quarter, North Carolina senior forward Erin Matson secured a penalty stroke as a result of hooking inside Virginia’s circle. In a one-on-one against the goalkeeper, Matson’s shot slipped under Trimborn’s stick, ensuring that the Tar Heels would end the first quarter with a 2-0 lead.
Virginia’s start to the second period was very similar to its start of the first period, with strong offensive pressure in North Carolina’s circle. However, this time the Cavaliers’ efforts led to favorable results. Virginia secured a penalty corner just over a minute into the period, and with a pass from Geusgens, Janssen took a quick shot that Taylor could not stop.
With the Cavaliers on the board, the rest of the first half was a battle for possession as play remained in the midfield. 13:13 into the second period, Virginia had another opportunity to score with a penalty corner caused by a stick obstruction. The Cavaliers also had an advantage of one more player, as Tar Heel senior back Madison Orobono had just received a green card. Attempting to capitalize on this penalty, freshman midfielder Daniela Mendez-Trendler sent the ball into play but no shot was made as the North Carolina defense blocked the ball.
In the last minute of the half, following a green card for Cavalier freshman midfielder Lauren Kenah, the Tar Heels didn’t slow down as they sent the ball up the middle of the field. As Trimborn stepped up to block the shot, Matson stepped around her and sent the ball into the goal, finishing the first half with North Carolina up 3-1.
The third quarter was largely focused in the midfield, as both teams passed around each other in an attempt to get offensive plays started. 8:46 into the half, Virginia graduate student midfielder Annie McDonough’s shot at goal deflected off of Taylor, and McDonough’s shot was followed closely by another shot from Janssen that was just wide of the goal. Within the last five minutes of the quarter, the Cavaliers saw another penalty corner, with a shot from graduate student back Lindsay Dickinson deflecting off of teammate freshman midfielder Caroline Nemec.
The fourth quarter played out similarly to the third quarter, with no goals made despite shot attempts from both teams. Virginia had another shot off of a penalty corner, but Lacobucci’s shot was deflected off the Tar Heel defense and bounced over the goal.
Trimborn blocked two more shots from Sessa and Matson within the first 11 minutes of the period, but felt more pressure as North Carolina had four more penalty corners in the last two minutes of play. This ended the quarter with no additional goals scored and ended the game in a 1-3 loss for Virginia.
“The game was action packed. It was everything you’d expect in a top-10 matchup. In games like today, vulnerabilities are exposed, which is exactly what we need at this point in the season.” Madison said. “There were some outstanding individual performances today, but we need outstanding team performances to become the best we can be.”
The Cavaliers look ahead to their final regular season matchups, as they host Kent State Sunday at noon and travel to play Maryland Wednesday at 5 p.m.