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Aug. 27, 2014

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The Virginia field hockey team comes into the season ranked as the No. 6 team in the nation. The Cavaliers are also ranked sixth in the ACC preseason coaches’ poll, two rankings that were quite similar to last year when Virginia was picked to finish sixth in the ACC and began the year as the No. 7 team in the country. The Cavaliers finished the 2013 campaign with a 3-3 mark in conference play, tying them for third place, and a 15-6 overall record which helped them finish the year at No. 7 in the NFHCA rankings.

The 2014 Cavaliers are a young squad with only six upperclassmen on the roster, including four seniors who will be sharing the responsibility of being the team’s captains.

“This senior class really wants to get to the Final Four,” said ninth-year head coach Michele Madison. “It is the one thing they haven’t done that the previous classes have. It’s going to take a lot of work. Our schedule is brutal, but it has to be brutal to get us ready for championship games. We are looking forward to the season, but just have to take it one game at a time.”

The Cavaliers open the season on the road on Aug. 29 at William & Mary, an unranked team who upset UVa at home last season, followed by three-straight games against ranked opponents including at No. 8 Penn State (Aug. 31) and hosting No. 7 Princeton in Virginia’s home-opener on Sept. 7. Ten of Virginia’s 19 regular-season opponents are ranked in the preseason top-20.

Virginia will be undertaking this schedule without the contributions of last year’s leading scorer, four-time All-American Elly Buckley who graduated in May.

“With the loss of Elly Buckley, we are going to need to have a team approach to scoring, a more systematic approach that relies on rebounds and deflections instead of the big hit,” Madison said. “We need to pull together a team and have them find out who they are. It’s going to be a step-by-step process.”

Even with the loss of Buckley, the Cavaliers still return three of their top four goal-scorers from last season, including sophomore strikers Caleigh Foust (Bryn Mawr, Pa.) and Riley Tata (Virginia Beach, Va.) and midfielder Lucy Hyams (Whitstable, England), who was named the 2013 ACC Freshman of the Year after scoring five goals with 11 assists in her rookie campaign.

“We are going to rely heavily on that second-year class,” Madison said. “We had five of our sophomores [Jeannie Blackwood (Virginia Beach, Va.), Emily Faught (Newton Square, Pa.), Emilia Tapsall (Old Greenwich, Ct.), Macy Peebles (Yorktown, Pa.) and Tata] compete at the USA Field Hockey U21 championship this summer after working out with the High Performance Training squads in the late spring. That really gave them more experience and made them more game-ready right at the start of the season.”

The Cavaliers also boast one of the top incoming freshman classes in the nation, including U.S. Junior National Team veteran midfielder Tara Vittese (Cherry Hill, N.J.). Vittese was voted to the 2014 Preseason All-ACC team, the first Virginia freshman to ever earn the honor.

“Tara is a primetime player, the top recruit in the nation,” Madison said. “She has international experience. She does things with the ball that are special for her age and her experience level. She is a really polished player. She came in strong and crushed the fitness test.”

Madison’s defensive lineup will be fairly fluid as the season begins as she tries to find the right mix of personnel in the backfield.

“We are trying to find a sweeper, the last man who can communicate and organize the team,” Madison said of her back line. “Emily Faught is in consideration for that. First-year Nadine de Koning (Laren, The Netherlands) is also a possibility. Freshman Becca Zamojcin (Phoenixville, Pa.) has really grabbed the side-back position. Rachael Ulsh, another first year, has been stepping up and could also share that duty. For the attacking right back, we have a lot of options between Emily, Jeannie, Tollie Bell (Norfolk, Va.) and others.”

The defensive position that isn’t in doubt is the goalkeeping duties. U-19 team veteran Rebecca Holden (Fishing Creek, N.J.) returns to the mix for her delayed sophomore season after redshirting last year, joining senior Jenny Johnstone (Paisley, Scotland), the 2012 All-ACC goalkeeper.

Jenny Johnstone and Rebecca Holden will share the goalkeeping this year,” Madison said. “Both of them are quite capable, but very different goalkeepers. Becca is quicker and out on the ball, whereas Jenny is a more positional goalkeeper. It will give us a couple of different looks in corners and field play. We have to get them both ready for the end of the season, so they both have to play and they, like the rest of the players, have to grow.”

The Cavaliers are vying for their third-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and their eighth with Madison at the helm. The Cavaliers’ last trip to the NCAA Semifinals came during the 2010 season.

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