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Aug. 26, 2015

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The 2014 ACC regular-season co-champion Virginia field hockey team opens up the 2015 campaign this Friday night (Aug. 28), hosting Drexel at 6 p.m. at Turf Field. The Cavaliers, who are ranked ninth in the Penn Monto/NFHCA Preseason Poll, will play three ranked opponents in their first five games, including hosting No. 7 Penn State on Sunday, August 30 at 12 p.m.

“Everything is possible for this team,” said Virginia head coach Michele Madison. “Last year, we were so young. Now, we’re loaded up with sophomores and juniors. There’s so much potential. We have some experience now.”

The returning veterans include sophomore midfielder Tara Vittese (Cherry Hill, N.J.). Vittese, who was voted to the 2014 Preseason All-ACC Team before playing in her first collegiate game, and lived up to her advance billing, going on to be named a 2014 NFHCA First-Team All-American and First Team All-ACC. Vittese, who was also named to this season’s preseason All-ACC team, lead the ACC last season in points (51), points per game (2.68), goals (17), shots (80) and shots per game (4.21) as well as being tied for first in assists (17) and ranking second in goals per game (0.89) and assists per game (0.89). Nationally, Vittese ranked in the top-12 in points per game (4th), assists per game (6th) and goals per game (11th).

“I think Tara’s athletic ability, game sense and her ability to take over the game makes her one of the top collegiate players in the nation,” Madison said. “She has already taken the reigns of our team a little more this season and mentors the younger players. Being a first year last year, she just wanted to make everybody else look good, but her training with the U21 team this summer has brought out some of her strong leadership qualities.”

In addition to Vittese, the Cavaliers have two other players returning who earned NFHCA All-Region honors last season. Junior midfielder Lucy Hyams (Whitstable, England), who was also an all-region honoree in 2013, was among the top-10 players in the ACC in points per game (7th) and goals per game (6th), finishing the year with nine goals and five assists. Junior striker Caleigh Foust (Bryn Mawr, Pa.), an All-ACC Second Team member as well as an all-region honoree, finished the regular-season tied for second in the ACC with 13 goals. Foust scored three game-winning goals last season, all of which came in overtime victories.

“Players like Tara Vittese and Lucy Hyams will have big impacts, but the third year class have to be the glue, they can make the difference,” Madison said. “Macy Peebles (Yorktown, Va.) was the most improved player of the spring and she looks strong again. Caleigh Foust overcame a lot to mount a consistent season last year and is definitely on the brink of a breakout season this year. Riley Tata (Virginia Beach, Va.) can make things happen. She’s a goal scorer and is exciting in front of the cage.”

One of the biggest voids that the Cavaliers need to address was losing four-year starting goalie Jenny Johnstone to graduation in the spring.

“Our goalkeepers, junior Rebecca Holden (Fishing Creek, N.J.) and redshirt freshman Carrera Lucas (Brooklandville, Md.), have to team up together to keep the ball out of the goal and control the defense,” Madison said. “We will train and develop both of them. It depends how they come to camp and who takes the job with confidence which one will get the start in the net.

“Defensively, we definitely have to improve. I think we made some improvements in the spring and we focused on some of the critical zones of defense and our individual technique. A lot of our youth was in the backfield last season.”

Lucas will not be the only new face on the pitch this season. The Cavaliers have six true freshman on the team this season.

“All of the freshmen could potentially see playing time,” Madison said. “Greta Ell (Plains, Pa.) and Nikki Freeman (Downington, Pa.) are very poised with the ball and probably have the most experience in the areas we need them on the field. Bailey Fanikos (Lynnfield, Mass.) will carry a shift in the front and Izzy McDonough (Kennett Square, Pa.) can play in both lines. Playing minutes will depend on how quickly they pick up on the system.”

The Cavaliers will be seeking the team’s first ACC Tournament Championship when the tournament is held in Charlottesville the first week of November.

“The team is really excited to have the ACC Tournament at home this year,” Madison said. The team loves playing in front of our fans and at our facility.”

Right now, however, the team is looking to start collecting regular-season wins, focusing on their opponents, looking at one game at a time.

“There are always opportunities to generate momentum within a season,” Madison said. “We generated some last year and got a taste of what that can do for a team. Now we believe we can win a national championship and that’s the goal. To do our best everyday and keep pushing the standard is our daily goal. It’s in the cards, we just don’t know when it’s going to happen.”

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