Nov. 12, 2012
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the sixth time in Michele Madison’s seven seasons as its head coach, UVa advanced to the NCAA field hockey tournament this fall. Among other things, that means the 2011 season, when the Cavaliers stayed home with an 8-12 record, figures to be remembered as an anomaly.
Still, these Wahoos wanted to do more than make the NCAAs. With two Olympians on their roster, as well as two other All-ACC performers, the `Hoos appeared to have the firepower to contend for a national title. And that made the way their season ended Sunday afternoon at University Hall Turf Field — with a second-round loss to No. 2 seed Princeton — especially frustrating for the Cavaliers.
A victory would have sent Virginia to the NCAA’s final four for the third time in four seasons. Instead, in front of a crowd that included UVa president Teresa Sullivan, the `Hoos went scoreless over the final 65 minutes and lost 5-2.
Princeton (19-1) advances to meet Maryland (18-5) in an NCAA semifinal Friday in Norfolk. Virginia ends the season with a 16-6 record. Of UVa’s losses, four were to teams that advanced to the final four.
“Disappointing day,” Madison said, “but everything we have done until today got us here. That tells the story of the heart and soul that they put in every day, and the hard work. They were determined to make things happen, and they turned it around after last year.”
Exactly two weeks earlier, Virginia had hosted Princeton on the same field. The Tigers won that regular-season meeting 2-1, but fifth-year senior Michelle Vittese came away convinced the Cavaliers could capture a rematch.
“To be honest, the first game we played very poorly,” Vittese said Sunday. “I thought that player for player, we’re just as good, and I still believe that today, to be honest. I just think that they’re a more cohesive team than we are at this point, and they interchange really well and they play through the lines very, very well. Unfortunately we couldn’t match that defensively.”
Sunday’s game could not have started much better for UVa. Sixty-nine seconds in, sophomore Rachel Sumfest’s unassisted goal put the `Hoos up 1-0. The Tigers pulled even in the fourth minute, but 75 seconds later junior Elly Buckley, assisted by fifth-year senior Paige Selenski and sophomore Jess Orrett, scored on a penalty corner to give Virginia a 2-1 lead.
But that was it for a UVa team that came in averaging nearly four goals per game. Selenski, who like Vittese played for the U.S. team at the Summer Olympics in London, is the ACC offensive player of the year and Virginia’s all-time leader in career points. But the Tigers held her without a shot for more than 60 minutes Sunday, and that would be Selenski’s lone attempt.
“They’re marking her everywhere,” Madison said. “They follow her around the field. We try to isolate her and get her free, but then she’s away from the ball. We can’t get her the ball in the scoring zone.”
Kathleen Sharkey encountered no such obstacles Sunday for Princeton, which led 3-2 at halftime. The Ivy League offensive player of the year, Sharkey took 12 shots and scored twice.
In the Oct. 28 game against Princeton, Selenski took only four shots, but one went in to pull Virginia to 1-1 in the 44th minute. In the rematch, she found opportunities even harder to come by.
“They’re a great defensive team all around,” Selenski said. “They don’t really have any weaknesses on the field. I think that was a struggle for us. We had the right game plan, and we started off strong, but we needed to maintain that the whole game but weren’t able to.”
The game was their last as Cavaliers for seniors Selenski, Vittese, Britt Knouse, Phoebe Willis and Amanda Crider. Selenski and Vittese withdrew from the University in 2011-12 to pursue their dream of making the Olympic team. They rejoined the team in August and helped the `Hoos return to form.
“At first it was a little bit difficult,” Selenski said, “but we were able to work ourselves back into it. I think we grew as a team the whole season, so that’s a positive look on things, and hopefully they can take that going forward into next year.”
Among the players with eligibility remaining at Virginia are Buckley and sophomore goalkeeper Jenny Johnstone, both of whom joined Selenski and Vittese on the All-ACC team this fall.
Selenski leaves UVa with 100 career goals — she’s only the 10th player in NCAA history to reach that mark — and 38 career assists. She was named All-ACC four times. Vittese made the All-ACC team three times.
“You don’t replace players like that,” Madison said. “Not just on the field, but off the field. They do all the right things, and they strive for excellence day in and day out, so they set the tone for the team and whole program. I’m really proud of all their contributions.”