Nov. 20, 2009

By Jeff White

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — They posed with a trophy on the Kentner Stadium turf, Michele Madison and her captains, Lauren Elstein and Traci Ragukas, and did their best to wear cheerful expressions.

But it was not the prize they’d hoped to collect at the NCAA field hockey tournament’s final four. It was a semifinalist’s trophy.

Second-seeded UVa fell 3-2 to third-seeded North Carolina in the second semifinal Friday on the campus of Wake Forest. And so a season in which the Cavaliers won a school-record 20 games ended with tears of disappointment and frustration.

This team played their heart out today,” said Madison, Virginia’s fourth-year coach. “I’m very proud of their efforts. I’m proud of the entire season. It’s just unfortunate that it had to end today.”

Almost to the end, Madison believed her team would force overtime, if not win in regulation.

“The first time I felt like, ‘Oh, no,’ was when they started stalling, and that was with 32 seconds left,” she said.

UNC (19-2) advances to meet top-seeded Maryland (23-0), the defending NCAA champion, in Sunday’s title game. The Terrapins beat fourth-seeded Princeton 7-5 in the first semifinal Friday.

Of the Wahoos’ four losses this season, two were to Maryland and two to Carolina.

After the first of the two 35-minute halves Friday, the Tar Heels led 1-0. About three minutes into the second half, the ‘Hoos appeared to pull even on a shot by sophomore Inga Stöckel. The lead umpire signaled a goal, but the trailing umpire saw it differently, ruling that the ball had been higher than 18 inches off the turf when it crossed the goal line.

On that controversial call, the goal was disallowed, much to the displeasure of the Cavaliers.

They battled on, though, and Ragukas’ unassisted goal in the 48th minute made it 1-1. UNC capitalized on defensive breakdowns to score in the 51st and 54th minutes, but UVa answered again.

In the 60th minute, sophomore Paige Selenski’s 27th goal of the season — she tipped in a shot by Stöckel on a penalty corner — pulled Virginia to 3-2. And Madison knew what was coming next: the tying goal.

“I could smell it,” she said.

Alas, it never came, but the Cavaliers had their opportunities. In a five-minute span that started with 8:12 remaining, they had four penalty corners.

“That’s what a championship game is about,” Madison said. “You have to be able to put it in when you have a chance.”

Before each of those final four corners, sophomore back Floor Vogels said, she walked over to goalkeeper Kim Kastuk.

“I was like, ‘We got this. We’re going to win this game,'” Vogels said. “I was wrong.”

This was UVa’s first appearance in the final four since 1998. It’s not likely to take another 11 years for the ‘Hoos to get back. They lose only two seniors: Elstein and Ragukas.

“In the growth of the program, the final four was definitely the next step,” Madison said. “They achieved it. We felt good about it, and the rest was going to be the cherry on the top.”

As much as Madison, who guided Michigan State to the NCAA semifinals in 2002 and ’04, tried to prepare the Cavaliers for playing on this stage, some things probably must be experienced.

“They’re young, and so they made some mistakes,” she said. “Some of the kids did things they’ve never done. And that’s just pressure, and that’s experience. They want to do it perfect, so they try to take an extra step with it to make it perfect, and that’s not what you need. You have to see it, do it, see it, do it.”

The team will be better for the experience, said junior midfielder Haley Carpenter.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity, and it just shows us what we need to do next year,” she said.

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