By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — UVa field hockey star Elly Buckley has been in the United States so long she’s lost her Australian accent.
That’s what Buckley believes, at least, and teammate Chloe Pendlebury, another Aussie, concurred Wednesday at the University Hall Turf Field. Not everyone, though, is convinced.
Told by a reporter that her accent remains unmistakably Australian, Buckley looked incredulous.
“You’re probably the first person who’s said that,” she replied.
For Buckley and Pendlebury, this is their third year at UVa, where they’ve been starters in Michele Madison’s program since Day One.
Buckley, an All-ACC forward in 2010 and ’11, moved to back this season, partly to ease the stress on a problematic knee. She’s known for her wicked shot on penalty corners and is second on the team in scoring, with 26 points on 11 goals and four assists.
Pendlebury, also a back, anchors UVa’s defense. She has joined the penalty-corner group and, after not recording a point in either of her first two years, has five assists this season.
The Aussies contribute more, however, than superior hockey skills.
“Elly’s a great comic relief,” said Madison, the Cavaliers’ seventh-year coach. “She keeps everybody laughing, and she can laugh at herself. Chloe’s more like the mom on the team. She looks out for everybody.”
Buckley and Pendlebury were late additions to the recruiting class that enrolled at UVa in 2010-11. Virginia’s starters in 2009 had included Charlotte van den Broek and Floor Vogels from the Netherlands and Inga Stöckel from Germany, and each had eligibility remaining. For various reasons, however, all left UVa after the ’09 season and returned home.
Fortunately for the Cavaliers, Buckley and Pendlebury wanted to come to the States to play college field hockey. As freshmen they helped UVa advance to the NCAA semifinals.
Buckley is from Scarborough, a suburb of Perth. Her older sister, Jemma, was an All-American in field hockey at Maryland and helped the Terrapins capture NCAA titles in 2010 and ’11.
Pendlebury is from another Perth suburb, Joondanna. Pendlebury had visited Florida and Washington, D.C., with her family in 2004, but Buckley had never been to the United States before she arrived in August 2010.
Back then, Buckley and Pendlebury figured they’d spend two seasons at UVa and then head back to Australia.
“It was a break from [club] hockey back home,” Pendlebury said. “But both of us loved it so much that we ended up staying.”
Buckley said: “I don’t think we even thought about [leaving UVa]. It was just like, `We’re coming back.’ ”
For Madison, Buckley and Pendlebury were the first Australians she had coached. The Wahoos’ 2012 roster includes another Aussie, sophomore forward Jessica White, and two other international players: sophomore goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone, from Scotland; and sophomore forward/midfielder Jess Orrett, from England.
After stumbling in 2011, when they finished 8-12, in part because Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese had withdrawn from school to pursue their Olympic dreams, the Cavaliers have returned to form this year.
“We definitely have a lot of potential,” Buckley said.
Pendlebury said: “We just need to keep building on what we’re learning and keep going up from there. I feel like sometimes, because we do have two Olympians and [other talented players], we fall back on that and we expect them to do a lot more. Now we know that we all have to step up to be the best team we can be.”
With Selenski (team-high 39 points) and Vittese back in the lineup, Virginia (9-2 overall, 1-0 ACC) is ranked No. 7 nationally heading into its Friday night showdown with No. 4 Maryland (7-1, 2-0). The teams meet at 6 p.m. at the Turf Field. The Terps have won 15 straight over the Cavaliers.
Her sister is no longer in College Park, having returned to Australia, but “I’m friends with the whole Maryland team,” Buckley said, “so it’s going to be fun, but very competitive at the same time.”
For Buckley and Pendlebury, the game will be special for other reasons. The crowd at the Turf Field is expected to include their parents. Buckley’s were scheduled to arrive in Charlottesville on Wednesday and Pendlebury’s on Thursday.
Buckley, a psychology major, plans to be back at UVa next season. Pendlebury, a biology major, will complete work on her bachelor’s degree this semester, Madison said, and may return to Australia next year to continue studying to become a veterinarian.
“I’m actually very lucky,” Pendlebury said. “Murdoch, my university back home, is holding my place for me, so no matter what happens here, I’ve still got a place back at the university there.”
Buckley plans to eventually return to Australia, too. Whenever they head home, Pendlebury and Buckley will carry warm memories of UVa and Charlottesville with them.
“I love being in a college town,” Pendlebury said. “It’s really fun just walking down the street and seeing all your friends. It’s definitely different from living in Perth, where everyone’s spread out and you would rarely see someone that you know if you’re in the city.”
Buckley said: “Waking up to see your best friends is probably the best thing.”
Pendlebury agreed. “You’re just surrounded by your best friends all the time, which is nice.”