By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– On a cold, gray Sunday afternoon, the tension steadily built at the Turf Field as the scoreless minutes in this NCAA field hockey quarterfinal mounted: first 15, then 30, then 45 and then 60.
In overtime, the pressure finally broke and relief arrived – for the home team. Sophomore midfielder Annie McDonough’s goal 5:28 into the 10-minute extra period gave third-seeded Virginia a 1-0 victory over former ACC rival Maryland and triggered a frenzied celebration in the stands and on the field.
On the UVA sideline, athletics director Carla Williams and former head coach Jane Miller were among those sharing high-fives and hugs with players.
“It’s like the best day of my life,” McDonough said. “I couldn’t have asked for anything else. It was amazing. It feels like all of our hard work really paid off.”
For the Cavaliers (18-4), this will be their third trip to the NCAA tournament’s final four in 14 seasons under head coach Michele Madison. The first came in 2009 and the second in 2010, with lineups that featured All-Americans Paige Selenski and Michelle Vittese, who went on to become standouts for the U.S. national team.
These Wahoos have less star power. Junior back Rachel Robinson made the All-ACC first team, and two other defenders, sophomore Amber Ezechiels and senior Anzel Viljoen, were second-team selections.
For the Hoos, that was it for all-conference recognition, but “this team has something special,” Madison said. “They fight for each other … They just stayed together. It’s a great team dynamic.”
In the NCAA semifinals, Virginia will face Princeton (15-4) at 3:45 p.m. Friday at Wake Forest’s Kentner Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C. The unseeded Tigers upended No. 2 seed Connecticut 2-0 in another quarterfinal Sunday.
This marks the fourth straight season that UVA and Princeton will have met in the NCAAs. The Tigers ousted the Cavaliers in the quarterfinals in 2016 and in the first round in 2017 and ’18.
The effort needed to overcome Maryland (17-4), the NCAA runner-up in 2017 and ’18, should help the Hoos in Winston-Salem, McDonough said.
“We know how to play in these overtime, high-intensity games,” she said.
This was a rematch of the Cavaliers’ Sept. 13 game in College Park, Md., where they lost 3-2 to the Terrapins in a shootout.
“That was definitely really frustrating,” McDonough said, “but I think having our home field made it a lot better. That helps a lot.”
The Terps dominated much of the first half, and the Cavaliers were fortunate not to find themselves down early.
Her players “were a little tentative,” Madison said. “They were deer in the headlights … At halftime I said, ‘You guys, if we end the game this way, you’re not going to be happy with it. You have a chance to change it and get out there and be aggressive and start working for each other again.’ “
The Hoos grew more aggressive as the game progressed, putting the Terps on the defensive. In the first minute of the fourth quarter, UVA appeared to take a 1-0 lead, but after a video review McDonough’s goal was disallowed.
“That was really frustrating,” McDonough said, “because we thought we finally had it, but I think that gave us a lot of momentum and put them on their heels, because we knew we could get it in soon.”
Robinson said: “We knew we were going to get another shot, whether it was during that fourth quarter or overtime.”
The goal didn’t come in regulation, and Madison wasn’t sure what to expect in overtime. “I was a nervous wreck,” she said.
Near the midpoint of the period, however, the Cavaliers earned a penalty corner. “We all met at the top of the circle,” McDonough recalled, “and said, ‘OK, this is our corner, this is our chance. We gotta get this in.’ “
Robinson’s shot was saved, but the rebound came to her. She sent the ball back toward the cage, and McDonough deflected it in.
“I knew what I needed to do, and she sent it across perfectly, as we’ve been practicing,” McDonough said. “It was amazing.”
Robinson said: “I don’t even know if there’s words to describe it … This is the happiest day so far, and hopefully it can keep going.”
Her sister, Katie, was a freshman on the UVA team that advanced to the NCAA semifinals in 2010. Katie Robinson is now the field hockey coach at Langley High in Northern Virginia. Langley won the Virginia High School Legaue’s Class 6 state title Saturday, after which the sisters spoke.
“She said, ‘Now, it’s your turn,’ ” Rachel recalled Sunday, smiling.
The Cavaliers’ coaches wanted the players to focus on Maryland and not dwell on the implications of the game. Still, it was impossible to push that aside entirely, Robinson said.
“We all know we’re going to go to the final four if we win this game,” she said. “I used it as energizer.”
Madison’s first thought when she saw her players celebrating after McDonough’s game-winner? “That they deserve it.”