By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — It’s OK for Michele Madison’s players to talk about and think about North Carolina now. But until time expired Thursday afternoon, she wanted Duke to be the only ACC opponent on their minds.
“It took a lot of work,” said Madison, UVa’s fourth-year field hockey coach.
In the end, though, her team kept its focus. The third-seeded Cavaliers whipped the sixth-seeded Blue Devils 3-1 in the ACC tournament’s first round Thursday afternoon at the University Hall Turf Field.
UVa (17-2) will face second-seeded North Carolina (16-1) in the second semifinal, Friday at 6:30 p.m. In the teams’ regular-season meeting, the Tar Heels edged the Wahoos 2-1 in overtime at the Turf Field.
Duke closed the season at 9-10. Because the Blue Devils have a losing record, they’re not eligible for the NCAA tournament.
“Their backs were against the wall, so I knew it was going to be a tough game,” Madison said, “and if we gave them just a little bit of breathing room, we would not have seen North Carolina. I told the girls they had to earn the right to play North Carolina, and that’s what they did today.”
The all-ACC team, announced Wednesday, includes three Cavaliers: sophomores Paige Selenski, Inga Stöckel and Michelle Vittese. Each played a key role against Duke.
Selenski, the team’s leading scorer this season, collected Virginia’s second and third goals. Stöckel had a goal and an assist, and Vittese assisted on Selenski’s first goal.
That came 26 seconds before halftime and gave the Cavaliers a 2-1 lead.
“Yeah, it’s a lot easier,” Selenski said of having a halftime lead. “You feel a lot more comfortable. You know that you’re up, but you know you have to maintain that as well.”
Senior forward Lauren Elstein agreed. “If we’re going in 5-1, it’s a little more comforting,” she said.
Virginia’s final goal, on a tip-in off a penalty corner, came with 46 seconds left and capped a half in which Madison’s team dominated play.
“What I think the team did really great today was, we weren’t satisfied with just two goals and we didn’t just play defensively and play on our heels,” Elstein said. “We kept fighting for it … We wanted to keep scoring.”
A win over UNC would probably assure Virginia one of the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament, Madison believes. The ‘Hoos are free to ponder that possibility after handling the Devils.
“That was our big focus,” Elstein said. “Think about Duke. We gotta get through Duke first. We can’t think about Friday or Sunday or anything unless we get through Thursday first, so I think the team, the coaches, everybody was very focused on what we needed to do, and that was beating Duke.”