By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — On a steamy September afternoon at the University Hall Turf Field, Carrera Lucas stood in the goal and faced a barrage of shots from the Connecticut Huskies. Many of them found the mark, and when the game mercifully ended for the University of Virginia field hockey team, UConn walked off with an 8-0 victory.

That’s something like a 50-0 win—or loss—in football. The Cavaliers broke down in every phase of the game against the Huskies.

“It was pretty awful,” Lucas recalled.

The Wahoos haven’t been the same team since that defeat, and the changes have been for the better. The ‘Hoos have won seven of their past eight games and climbed to No. 9 in the national rankings.

“We’re growing, for sure,” head coach Michele Madison said. “The schedule is brutal, and I’ve thought twice about it: Did I make it too difficult? But with that being said, you have to play the best to be the best. I know this team has big goals. Whether it’s difficult for us or easy, we have to grow and get better. We are.”

The loss to UConn “definitely hurt,” Lucas said, “but the beginning of the regular season was pretty tough [overall]. We didn’t quite understand why the team wasn’t quite coming together as we expected or as fast as we expected. So we had been rolling with the punches for a while. Obviously, that was the worst punch, but we were kind of braced for impact already, I would say. So when that came around, I think it was a final straw.

“I think it might have just been one of those things where all those blows we took preseason and early season, they got us ready to fight for what we needed to fight for and get ourselves in a good position.”

Lucas’ season hasn’t been uneventful either. She didn’t play in the first four games, to her chagrin, but a season-ending injury sustained by fifth-year senior Rebecca Holden thrust Lucas into a leading role. She’s started the past 12 games for Virginia (11-5 overall, 3-2 ACC), which hosts No. 7 Louisville (13-3, 2-3) at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Turf Field.

In UVA’s most recent home game, a 1-0 overtime win Saturday over then-No. 2 Syracuse, Lucas made five saves and posted her fourth shutout of the season. Four days earlier, in Williamsburg, she’d made five saves in Virginia’s 3-2 comeback win over William & Mary.

For those performances, Lucas was named the ACC’s co-defensive player of the week.

Lucas, a redshirt sophomore from Brooklandville, Md., near Baltimore, continues to improve at “controlling her defense and gaining the respect of her defense,” Madison said. “Carrera is a perfectionist. You can work with people that want to do it right.”

At 5-10, Lucas has excellent height for a goalie, and that’s “definitely an advantage,” Madison said. “There’s all different sizes of talents, even internationally, but your taller goalies obviously can cover the cage much easier. The little ones are just quicker to get places.”

Lucas grew up on a horse farm, called Helmore, about 10 miles from Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. She still lives at Helmore Farm with her parents and one of her two brothers.

As a student at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville, Lucas played goalie in field hockey and lacrosse, and her college path wasn’t always clear.

“I actually for a while thought I was going to be playing college lacrosse instead,” Lucas said.

As she grew older, however, “I started to enjoy field hockey a little more,” Lucas said. “I think the position is a little more athletic in field hockey, and you get to dive around and stuff like that. Whereas in lacrosse I kind of felt cooped up in the goal.

“But I loved both sports and realized that I was getting a lot more offers for lacrosse.”

Lucas was planning to play lacrosse at Cornell, in fact, but at the 11th hour an “offer from Virginia field hockey came up,” she said. “I was so excited about that, and I came down here and committed.

“What’s not to love? The fact that I was offered by one school [for field hockey] and it was Virginia, how lucky is that?”

Lucas redshirted in 2014 and then split time with Holden in 2015. In between, Lucas became a rarity in this era of athletic specialization: a two-sport athlete at the University.

An unexpected departure left the Virginia women’s lacrosse team with only one goalkeeper for the 2015 season: Lucas’ longtime friend Rachel Vander Kolk. The team’s roster then included twins Brooke and Kelly Boyd, with whom Lucas had played lacrosse at St. Paul’s.

“Their mom saw my mom back in Baltimore and said, ‘What do you think about Carrera playing lacrosse?’ ” Lucas recalled. “So I heard it through my mom first that they needed a goalie. And then I was contacted through Michele Madison. She called me into the office one day and said, ‘Hey, I just got this phone call from [head women’s lacrosse coach] Julie Myers.’ Michele basically pitched me the idea and said, ‘What do you think?’ ”

Lucas did not want to lose ground in her battle with Holden for the starting job, so she initially passed on the opportunity to join the lacrosse team.

“I didn’t want to shoot myself in the foot,” Lucas said. “And then we came back after winter break, and Michele called me in the office again and said, ‘I just talked to Julie again, and she’s desperate. She needs some help.’ So Michele said, ‘We’re going to help her out. Let’s work this out, and you can do both.’ ”

The coaches settled on an arrangement that worked for all parties. Lucas would practice twice a week with lacrosse and four times a week with field hockey.

“I thought it was important in Carrera’s development that she wasn’t gone 100 percent full time,” Madison said. “But I encouraged her to do it to help out the lacrosse team.”

If there was a field hockey game that spring, it took precedence over lacrosse. That meant Lucas missed a couple of lax games, including UVA’s 17-10 win over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville.

“I remember being upset about Tech, because they don’t have field hockey,” Lucas said, smiling. “It was my one chance to be a part of the rivalry.”

Lucas appeared in only one lacrosse game that season ââ’¬” an 18-6 win over Winthrop in the NCAA tournament’s first round ââ’¬” “but it was great to have Carrera as a backup,” Myers said.

“She did an amazing job. I think her background in the sport helped her, but she’s also such a nice kid that does everything right. She was always ready to do whatever was needed.”

The lacrosse team had more depth at goalkeeper last spring, so Lucas could focus on field hockey. “But I did tell Julie, ‘If anything crazy happens again and you’re down another goalie, just call me. You know where to find me.’ ”

A Media Studies major, Lucas is on track to graduate in May 2018. She hopes to then spend a fifth year at UVA as a student in a master’s program in the McIntire School of Commerce.

She and her academic advisor discussed an accelerated program in the Frank Batten School of Public Policy and Leadership, Lucas said, “but we decided that the McIntire program would be a little bit better suited for what I want to go into.”

Lucas laughed.

“I say that like I know,” she said. “I really don’t. I could see myself in a lot of different places in the business world. I think my team-sports background makes me want to be a part of a team.”

Lucas’ cheering section at most games includes her parents, Carol and Dale Lucas, who run Helmore Farm. Her father, a former member of the United States bobsled team, is passionate about horses, but he has many other interests, including barbecue.

“He went to culinary school way back in the day,” Lucas said, “and he’s always been a good cook. Years back, I think my mom signed him up for some barbecue class. He really liked it, and then I’d say around 2010 he started really getting into it, getting his own equipment and smokers. He does everything 150 percent.”

Barbecue competitions are held around the U.S., and Dale Lucas is often a member of teams that enter these events. One of his teams was called Pigs in Blanket, and “I hated that name,” his daughter said, laughing. “I wanted it to be Hog in the Spotlight, but that got vetoed.”

On her list of favorite foods, Lucas said, barbecue is not “actually up there that high in itself. It’s more of a sentimental thing. But I like the things that come with it, like being back home. In high school, pretty much every Sunday in the winter, Dad’s trying out some new barbecue recipe and watching the Ravens game, and we’ve got 15 people at our house.”

When his schedule permits, her father contributes to the tailgates that follow Virginia field hockey games. Along with other players’ fathers, including Mark Vittese, Dale Lucas cooks up barbecue and other dishes.

“It’s quite a culinary feast,” Madison said. “All the parents provide the resources for it, and then those guys actually get it done, and people help set up and clean up. When Carrera’s dad comes with the world-class barbecue, it’s a kitchen on wheels, and it’s just amazing.”