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Sept. 21, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — If North Carolina is the nation’s No. 1 college field hockey team, then the proceedings Friday night at the University Hall Turf Field showed that Virginia isn’t far behind.

With six minutes to go, the top-ranked Tar Heels and the fourth-ranked Cavaliers were tied at 1-1 in the ACC opener for both teams. In the 65th minute, unbeaten UNC scored what proved to be the winning goal, but UVa remained positive after its 2-1 loss.

“We’re knocking at the door,” head coach Michele Madison said. “The team prepared well. We were ready to go, we were ready to play.”

Another significant challenge awaits the Wahoos this weekend. At 1 p.m. Sunday, UVa (7-1) hosts No. 13 Northwestern (8-1) at the Turf Field. The Wildcats upset No. 9 Duke in Durham, N.C., on Friday night.

The `Hoos will learn from the loss to UNC (7-0), forward Riley Tata said. “We have plenty to take from it, so we’re going to do really well on Sunday and from here on out.”

Madison said: “Last weekend we had back-to-backs, Saturday and Sunday, and that’s what we [told the players], `You have to prepare. Good teams can back it up.’ And they’re going to have to back it up and be even better on Sunday.”

Virginia, seeking only the second victory over a top-ranked opponent in the program’s history, fell behind 1-0 when Carolina scored in the 20th minute on a flawlessly executed fast break. Eighty-nine seconds before halftime, however, the Cavaliers pulled even when senior Hadley Bell’s long pass found Tata uncovered in front of the cage.

“The ball all of a sudden was just behind the defense and the goalie,” said Tata, a freshman from Virginia Beach. “And so it just slipped in, and it hit my stick and it went in. It was a great pass by Hadley. It was perfect.”

Such opportunities were rare against UNC. Virginia, which came in averaging 4.1 goals per game, finished with only two penalty corners and five shots.

“As soon as you get the ball, it’s like three people coming on you,” senior forward Elly Buckley said. “It’s really hard. I feel like we didn’t even attack the first half. We were just defending the whole time.”

Madison said: “The game plan worked pretty well. It was just the attack game that failed us.”

Buckley, a three-time All-American, has scored 62 goals as a Cavalier, including nine this season. Against the Heels’ swarming defense, however, she didn’t get off a shot.

“They’re all over her,” Madison said. “Every time she has the ball, there’s three people on her, so she has to learn to play with that too.”

Buckley said: “I don’t think it’s any different than [in previous] years. But it’s hard against better teams like this, with better tacklers. It’s hard to get around them.”

Junior goalie Jenny Johnstone made seven saves for UVa, whose defense played well for most of the game. Late in the game, though, UNC capitalized on a rare lapse, and All-America forward Charlotte Craddock fired a shot past Johnstone.

“We gave them a good fight,” Buckley said. “They only beat us by one goal, and it was a really close game the whole time. We’re really proud of our team, but there’s a lot of things we need to [improve], too.”

That improvement figures to come as the younger Cavaliers gain more experience. Virginia’s roster includes nine freshmen, six of whom played Friday night: Tata, Caleigh Foust, Lucy Hyams, Jeannie Blackwood, Macy Peebles and Emilia Tapsall.

“They’re giving us minutes that we need, and they’re learning in little bits,” Madison said. “We can put them on for five minutes, pull them off, talk to them, put them back on, and they seem to keep growing.”

The loss to the Tar Heels stung, Tata said, “but we’re going to get them next time.”

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