By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– A special guest addressed the University of Virginia field hockey team on the eve of its first-round game in the NCAA championships. Tony Bennett’s message to the Cavaliers?
The head coach of the NCAA champion UVA men’s basketball team “told us he believes in the second and the third push, because every team can do the first push,” senior Anzel Viljoen recalled Friday.
“He said that the second and third response is what champions are made of. You don’t just step up once, but you do it over and over and over again for the whole 60 minutes, and I felt like our team really did that today.”
Third-seeded Virginia faced Delaware in the first round Friday afternoon at the Turf Field. Through three quarters the teams were tied, but UVA scored three goals in the final 11 minutes to secure a 4-1 victory.
Thanks, Tony, for your words of wisdom! 💙🧡 pic.twitter.com/034o7DEDvU
— Virginia Field Hockey (@UVAFieldHockey) November 15, 2019
Senior Erin Shanahan put the Cavaliers up 1-0 with a goal late in the first quarter. Viljoen scored what proved to be the game-winner at the 49:00 mark. Sophomore Greer Gill added the Wahoos’ third goal at the 56:47 mark and senior Colleen Norair scored the fourth about a minute later.
“The first three quarters, everyone was giving top effort, but we were able to find the second and third [pushes in the fourth],” said junior Rachel Robinson, a stalwart on defense. “We just attacked it.”
The victory was the 200th at Virginia for head coach Michele Madison, who said her players, apart from a few lapses, carried out the game plan to perfection.
“At the end, we just said, ‘Play like you’re losing. Get the hunger back, get the pressure on the ball and really step it up,’ ” Madison said. “And they did it.”
Delaware, which won the NCAA title in 2016, finished this season with a 16-4 record. Once the Cavaliers went up 2-1, Madison said, the Blue Hens “had to take chances to try to get the ball. We were able to get around and get behind them.”
In the quarterfinals, UVA (17-4) will host Maryland (17-3) at 1 p.m. Sunday. The Terrapins blanked Saint Joseph’s 4-0 in the second game of the Friday doubleheader at the Turf Field.
This will be the second meeting this season between the former ACC rivals. Maryland, the NCAA runner-up in 2017 and ’18, edged Virginia 3-2 in a shootout Sept. 13 in College Park, Md.
A victory Sunday would send the Wahoos to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2010. Robinson’s sister, Katie, was a freshman on that UVA team.
“I remember being there [as a spectator],” Rachel Robinson said, “and I want to experience that.”
In 14 seasons under Madison, the Cavaliers have reached the NCAA semifinals twice (2009 and 2010). They’ve missed the NCAA championships only twice (2011 and 2014). They surged late in the season last year and earned an at-large bid to the NCAAs, but a first-round loss left them at 9-10.
That marked the first time since 2011 that UVA had ended a season with a losing record, and the returning players from that team, including co-captains Robinson and Shanahan, were determined that 2019 would be different.
“They never wanted [to be in] that situation again,” Madison said. “They trained hard all spring and summer and came back ready to play.
“They’ve worked for each other since the first day. They’ve played in tight games all year long, and they just believe, and they just want to make it happen for each other.”
Viljoen said this UVA team “wanted to build that foundation for postseason. So we pushed really hard and we worked really hard all season long.”
Had the Hoos not been as driven, they would have opened the NCAAs on the road. Instead, they’re playing in familiar surroundings in front of a friendly crowd.
“We’re so comfortable here,” Robinson said. “This is one of the best turfs in the nation, and to be able to play on it and not have to adjust to other turfs, it’s amazing. And then the crowd today was unbelievable.”
To be playing at home this weekend is a huge advantage, Madison said. “It’s our field. It’s our fans. The air smells better. It’s just us. It’s where we want to be, and we couldn’t be happier.”
Robinson agreed. “We have a lot of momentum and a lot of confidence right now.”