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Aug. 23, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE – The eighth-ranked Virginia field hockey team opens the 2012 season on Friday, Aug. 24, beginning a slate of 19 regular-season games leading up to the ACC Tournament. The team is focused on using those 14 non-conference games and five ACC matches to achieve one goal: returning to the NCAA Championships.

The experienced Cavalier squad will be playing a very challenging schedule, facing nine teams that played in the 2011 NCAA Championships and taking on three of those teams in the first two weeks of the season. The Cavaliers, ranked No. 8 in the 2012 Penn Monto/NFHCA preseason poll, have 11 of the preseason top-25 teams on the schedule, including games against all of the teams ranked in the top five.

“Our schedule significantly highlights the best teams in the nation and the state,” said seventh-year head coach Michele Madison. “To become the best we can be, we have to play the best. In the struggle lies the strength we will need to overcome the obstacles and attack the challenges to achieve our team goals.”

The team opens the 2012 campaign Aug. 24 on the road at Temple. The Cavaliers jump right into the heart of competition against a very physical, aggressive, and determined Owl squad. Madison began her head-coaching career at Temple, leading the Owls to three NCAA Tournament appearances in her four seasons.

After Temple, the team heads across the state for a chance of redemption against Penn State on Aug. 26, the first of the eight teams that earned a spot in the 2011 postseason and the first contest against a top-25 opponent. Last season, the Nittany Lions blanked the Wahoos, 3-0, in Charlottesville. This year, Penn State is ranked at No. 9 in the preseason poll, one slot behind the Cavaliers.

Virginia open the home slate with three games from August 29- September 2, hosting Richmond and Old Dominion, a pair of instate rivals who both made the 2011 NCAA Tournament field, with Towson in between. Old Dominion enters the season with a No. 3 ranking.

Next, Madison will take her squad to the state of Michigan to take on Michigan State, a team she coached for 13 seasons, on Sept. 7. It is the first time she will coach against her old team in East Lansing since she left for Virginia. The team will also face Northeastern, a 2011 NCAA Tournament team ranked No. 21, the next day (Sept. 8) while in East Lansing.

The Cavaliers head back to Virginia, heading down the road to take on William & Mary in Williamsburg on Sept. 11.

“What we do for ourselves early on is more important than the opponent,” Madison said. “You can’t really focus on them. Still, looking at what we do against teams like Richmond, Old Dominion, and William & Mary early in the season will make a statement about where we are.”

After taking on Miami (Ohio) at home on Sept. 15, the team delves into ACC play with a tough trip to Boston College on Sept. 21, followed by a challenge against Boston University at Harvard on Sept. 23.

“That combination is always physically challenging,” Madison said. “BU is reinforced with some national team players from New Zealand. That is going to be back-to-back big games.”

Both Boston College (No. 17) and Boston University (No. 14) will begin the season ranked in the top-25.

On Friday, Sept. 28, the team is back home for a huge ACC contest against Maryland, the defending national champions and the preseason No. 1 team.

“They are the only ACC team we haven’t beaten since I have been here with this current team,” Madison pointed out. “We have been in overtime several times, but we have never been able to beat them.”

After three home non-conference contests, including facing 2011 NCAA Tournament participant New Hampshire (preseason No. 18) on Oct. 7, the team returns to ACC action at North Carolina (No. 2) on Oct. 13, at home against Wake Forest (No. 13) on Oct. 20, then at Duke (No. 5) on Oct. 27.

The team finishes the 2012 regular-season campaign on Monday, Oct. 29, at home against Princeton, ranked No. 4 in the preseason poll.

“The Princeton game will be our two national team players against their two national team players” Madison said. “They all know each other and are friends. It will be a barnburner and a game that will prepare us for the ACC tournament.”

The ACC Tournament is being held this season at North Carolina starting Nov. 1.

The Cavaliers have a very veteran team returning to the field with 18 players from the 2011 team, as well as the return of All-Americans Michelle Vittese (R-Sr., Cherry Hill, N.J.) and Paige Selenski (R-Sr., Shavertown, Pa.). The two redshirt seniors took a year off from their studies at Virginia in 2011 to train and compete with the US National team, earning gold Medals at the Pan American Games and competing at the London Olympics.

“I think what is going to be the biggest contribution [from the return of Vittese and Selenski] is the demonstration of the work rate,” Madison said. “You can tell people to play faster and to release the ball quicker and to a higher work rate, but until people around you are doing it, only then, when it happens and you see it can you really understand it. Paige always had a really high work rate, but her work rate is even high on defense now too.”

Madison also feels that the duo bring with them precision.

“They are used to very precise passes, giving and receiving. They’ll be able to give passes faster. In our system, we need to release the ball quickly and build two-on-ones and they’ll just be critical in that.”

Also returning to the squad is 2011 All-American Elly Buckley (Jr., Scarborough Perth, Australia). The junior will be playing as a sweeper this season, but will still be a threat to score.

“Elly has a huge command of the game,” Madison said. “She reads the game well. She sees the pass. She sees it fast. She can release the ball fast. She is very accurate. She is very quick to attack. She also has a great connection with her teammates. She is like the pied piper. They all follow Elly around.”

Moving to the backfield this season will be sophomore Kelsey LeBlanc (So., Haverford, Pa.).

“Kelsey is a good playmaker,” Madison said. “In the spring, she showed that she could play defense. In one practice, we thought we would try her, and she just stood out. She can handle the ball out of the back.”

Maddie DeCerbo (So., Surf City, N.J.), Katie Robinson (So., Mount Joy, Pa.), Phoebe Willis (Sr., Fredericksburg, Pa.), and Lane Smith (So., Ottawa Hills, Ohio) will round out the backfield.

“Maddie is really growing as a defender,” Madison said. “She is a second year now with a good year under her belt.”

The transition of LeBlanc to a back has allowed Carissa Vittese (Jr., Cherry Hill, N.J.) to join the midfield that includes her sister, Michelle, as well as Chloe Pendlebury (Jr., Perth, Australia), Jess Orrett (So., Somerset, England), and Hadley Bell (Jr., Shaker Heights, Ohio).

“Our midfielders are work horses,” Madison said. “With those players in the midfield role, we can get the job done and we can run our system, if everyone is doing the work. With the fitness level our team has this season, they can all run it.”

Elizabeth Hanks (Jr., Hummelstown, Pa.) and Sarah Weber (So., Moorestown, N.J.) will fill in at the striker line.

“They’ll need to give us some added depth and fulfill the role of the striker, because we want to run with four strikers,” Madison said. “Sarah was our leading goal scorer in the spring, so we hope that she puts some in.”

The team has a young, but extremely talented goalkeeping unit. Sophomore Jenny Johnstone (So., Paisley, Scotland) has a year of experience under her belt and was the lone keeper voted to the preseason All-ACC team. She is joined by freshman Rebecca Holden (Fishing Creek, N.J.), who spent her summer working with the US U-19 National Team, and senior Amanda Crider (Vienna, Va.).

“It’s a year when we have a lot of experience back and the team really wants to go for it, so we really need two goalkeepers who have experience and can play,” Madison said.

She has also bolstered the goalkeepers by adding a specialist to her coaching staff. Annie Zinkavich was a former goalkeeper at Penn State who spent the last six seasons serving as a goalkeeping coach at her alma mater.

“This is a part of the program we need at this point with the young goalkeepers,” Madison said. “Having her daily attention is only going to help them adjust faster and grow.”

Admission is free for all regular-season home field hockey contests at Turf Field this season.

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