Aug 28, 2013

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Back in her native Australia, Elly Buckley hears from friends and family that she’s picked up a twang during her three years in the United States.

If so, it’s not easily discernible to the average American. In a recent interview, Buckley spoke with a distinct Aussie accent as she reflected on her time at the University of Virginia, where she began her fourth year this week.

“It’s crazy how fast it goes,” said Buckley, a co-captain on UVa’s field hockey team, which opens its season Friday at 6 p.m. against Louisville at the University Hall Turf Field.

Home for Buckley is Scarborough, a suburb of Perth on the southwest coast of Australia. She’s on track to graduate from UVa next spring with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, after which she’ll head home to join Perth Bar Staff, a company run by two of her siblings, sister Jemma and brother Aedan.

Jemma used up two years of college eligibility in Australia before enrolling at the University of Maryland in 2010. That was the same summer Elly arrived in Charlottesville, along with another Australian, Chloe Pendlebury.

Neither expected to still be at the University in 2013, but here they are. Pendlebury, a four-year starter at back, will graduate in December and then attend veterinary school in Australia.

“We originally planned for two years,” Buckley said. “But then I got here and I loved it so much that I wanted to stay.

“I would say we kind of lucked out, me and Chloe. We had no idea where we were going. I guess we got a really good academic school and really good sporting school.”

Did Buckley ever get homesick early in her college career?

“Not at all,” she said. “I feel like as soon as I got here I was so busy that I didn’t have time to think about it, and my sister was so close [to Charlottesville].”

Jemma Buckley was a two-time All-American who helped Maryland win NCAA titles in 2010 and ’11. Her sister has had a celebrated college career too.

Elly Buckley, a three-time All-ACC selection, was a third-team All-American in 2010 and a second-team selection in 2011. She ranks eighth in career goals at UVa, with 53, and is tied for seventh in career points, with 133. And she’s done all that with a left knee that’s been operated on three times — twice before she enrolled at Virginia.

“I have no meniscus left,” Buckley said.

Equally impressive, UVa coach Michele Madison said, is the way Buckley, a co-captain for the second straight season, carries herself.

“The team has always looked up to her, because she just has the right balance of hard work and humor,” Madison said. “She can laugh at herself, and she can just get everybody going and reflect on the bright side of life. She just loves playing hockey.

“The hardest part is trying to get her to do drills and stuff. She just wants to play and compete, and every day she’s like, `Can we do 5-v-5? Can we do 2-v-1?’ She only wants to compete, which is why she’s so good, and she drives the competition. I think she shows the team how to have fun and work hard.”

Her first two seasons at UVa, Buckley was a forward who became known for her scoring prowess.

“All she needs is an inch of space to get that ball through, and she takes calculated chances to do it,” Madison said. “Of course you’re going to take risks and lose possession, but the great scorers do. Just like the home-run hitters. They hit home runs or they strike out; that’s how it goes.”

In 2012, Madison moved her to defense: partly because U.S. Olympians Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese had rejoined the Wahoos after a year’s absence, partly to protect Buckley’s sore knee.

“We tried to minimize her running last year by playing her as sweeper,” Madison said, and the move was an unqualified success.

Even as a back, Buckley had an impact offensively. She finished the season as the team’s second-leading scorer — 41 points, on 17 goals and seven assists — and helped the `Hoos advance to the NCAA quarterfinals.

With three of UVa’s top four scorers from 2012 gone, however, Buckley is back at forward this season, playing striker.

“This year we said, `OK, let’s give it a go and put you back upfield,’ ” Madison said, “since that’s what she loves, and she’s such an attacking force. And we need her up there.”

She laughed. “I still think she’s a great sweeper,” Madison said. “She still was top 20 in scoring as a sweeper. You have the freedom to go through and still shoot. I’m not so sure why she doesn’t like that position.”

Whatever the reason, Buckley is delighted to be back at forward. “I like it better,” she said. “I like scoring, and I like being up near the action.”

Because of Buckley’s knee, her training regimen differs from that of her teammates. When the other Cavaliers were running this summer, Buckley usually could be found on a rowing machine.

“It’s a good thing she is the disciplined athlete she is, because she has gotten fit on the rowing machine,” Madison said. “She doesn’t complain about it. She just gets it done, because she wants to play at her best.”

Buckley said: “Michele’s really good with what I can do and when I shouldn’t be practicing. I guess through the years I’ve gotten better. When I get out there, I just want to give it my all, and I don’t really know when to stop.”

Buckley and junior midfielder Jess Orrett are co-captains this season on a team that added nine freshmen this summer.

“The leaders, the returners, everyone’s been doing well to show them the ropes,” Madison said. “You don’t want to squash their enthusiasm, of course, because that’s one of the strengths that nine freshmen can bring. It’s a balancing act, making sure they do the right thing.”

In retrospect, Buckley said, integrating Selenski and Vittese back into the Cavaliers’ program in 2012 proved more challenging than expected. Both had taken leaves of absence from UVa in 2011-12 to train with the U.S. national team and prepare for the Olympic Games in London.

“It was like they had different schedules,” Buckley said, “and they would play faster than us at some points, so it was a lot harder than we thought.”

This year, she said, there is “more of a team atmosphere, rather than just individual players performing. I think we’ll be stronger in that atmosphere.”

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