By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A year ago, the celebration that followed UVa’s victory in the NCAA field hockey quarterfinals lasted about a half-hour. The euphoria was understandable; the Cavaliers were headed to the final four for the first time in 11 years.
The third-seeded Wahoos booked another trip to the NCAA semifinals Sunday afternoon by beating Princeton 4-2 at the University Hall Turf Field. Their postgame demeanor was more businesslike this time.
That’s because an appearance in the final four is not her team’s ultimate goal, Virginia coach Michele Madison said. The win over the Tigers “was just in a step in the direction of where we want to be.”
UVa (18-3) will meet second-seeded North Carolina (21-1) on Friday in College Park, Md. The Tar Heels are defending NCAA champions and have beaten the ‘Hoos twice this season: 3-2 on Oct. 16 and 1-0, in overtime, in the ACC semifinals Nov. 5.
“Third time lucky,” said forward Elly Buckley, who scored two goals for UVa against Princeton (14-5).
Teammate Rachel Jennings said: “If it could be any team, I think we would want [UNC]. We have obviously gone through a hard bracket to get to where we are, so it’s only fitting that we play one of the best teams to get to the national championship.”
Top-seeded Maryland will face Ohio State in the other NCAA semifinal. Maryland dealt the ‘Hoos their other loss, winning in overtime at the Turf Field on Oct. 1.
Rematches abound in the 16-team NCAA tournament. UVa and Princeton also met in the regular season, Oct. 8 in Charlottesville. That game was much closer, the Cavaliers prevailing 2-1.
“Today we couldn’t quite keep up,” Princeton coach Kristen Holmes-Winn said Sunday, in part because Katie Reinprecht was hobbling.
Reinprecht, a junior midfielder who might be the nation’s top player, has a broken fibula. She was cleared to play in the NCAA tournament and gutted it out Sunday, but the injury clearly bothered her.
“She was playing out there today at not even 50 percent,” Holmes-Winn said.
Even so, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the ninth minute after scoring on their first penalty corner. To that point, the Cavaliers had had three penalty corners and a penalty stroke. None produced a goal.
“Getting the opportunity was the bonus, and that’s what we talked about at halftime too,” Madison said. “We were in there, and when we got into the circle we were able to get the corners. I guess the more you get, then eventually you’re going to score.”
Buckley, a freshman from Australia, broke through for UVa with an unassisted goal in the 30th minute. That made it 1-1. Then, about four minutes into the second half, Buckley put the ‘Hoos ahead for good with her fourth goal of her first NCAA tourney.
The Cavaliers’ lead grew to 4-1 — after two goals by Tara Puffenberger — before the Tigers closed the scoring with a goal in the 63rd minute.
Buckley, whose sister, Jemma, stars for Maryland, was a late addition to UVa’s recruiting class for 2010. Madison is thankful to have her. Buckley has been a force offensively from her first day on Grounds, and she scored the game-winner Saturday in overtime against Michigan State to send Virginia to the quarterfinals.
For the season, she has 19 goals, second on the team only to Selenski, who has 24. Puffenberger is third with 11.
“It just makes us more of a threat,” Madison said. “If we just had Paige, they could shut her down, but we have Paige and we have Elly and we have Puff that can score goals, and I think that makes it a little more difficult to mark us out.”
In last year’s NCAA semifinals, UVa lost 3-2 to North Carolina in Winston-Salem, N.C. Afterward, Virginia’s players admitted that playing on that stage for the first time had unnerved them.
“It always helps to have been there, and now [the team’s veterans] know what to expect,” Madison said.
Jennings said: “We’re not just content with getting to the final four this year.”
“Yeah, I felt like last year we were kind of content with just getting to the final four and being there and experiencing everything,” she said. “And I feel like this year our whole attitude has changed, and getting there isn’t enough anymore, and we just want to keep going further.”
After losing to UNC last year, the Cavaliers didn’t head back to Charlottesville immediately. Madison wanted her team to see exactly what it was missing. So when Carolina met Maryland for the NCAA title two days later, the ‘Hoos were in the stands at Wake Forest’s Kentner Stadium.
That stung, Jennings said Sunday, and “we don’t want to have to go through that again. We want to be in that game this year. So we know what we have to do.”