Virginia field hockey head coach Michele Madison is excited to hit the blue turf in August.

“The excitement for me is hands down the team,” Madison said. “They are determined and so exciting to coach. And even more exciting to watch play.”

Madison, a member of the NFHCA Hall of Fame, comes into the season ranked third among active NCAA I field hockey coaches in career victories, a feat that she has accomplished while taking over programs with losing records in the seasons before her arrival. This year, she sees her squad, her 18th at UVA, as having a roster  that offers “versatility, exciting skills and depth in every line.”

As the saying goes, defense wins championships. The Cavaliers have both an experienced defensive backline and one that has already won a championship in junior Jans Croon, sophomore Madison Orsi and incoming freshman Mia Abello. The three, along with midfielder Daniela Mendez-Trendler, played for the U.S. U-21 team that won the gold medal this spring at the Junior Pan Am Cup and has qualified for December’s U21 Junior World Cup. Abello is also a U.S. Senior Women’s National Team member, earning a spot on that squad going into her senior year of high school. She was also recently named to the roster for the 2023-24 team.

Those three will play in front of a trio of experienced goalkeepers in third-years Tyler Kennedy and Jackie Stinger and a first-year Nilou Lempers from Amsterdam.

Third-year core defender Emily Field looks to complete the backline foursome with senior Meghen Hengerer and sophomore Lauren Kenah able to do double duty at defensive mid and in the back four.

Madison is equally optimistic about the offensive potential of her squad.

“The core of the front six players is deeper than it has ever been,” Madison said. “A returning unit of core players naturally interchange through the lines. Returners Anneloes Knol, Esha Shah, Sloan Davidson and Taryn Tkachuk provide striker and pressing roles.”

Among the ‘core players’ returning are a pair of fifth years Laura Janssen and Adele Iacobucci. Janssen, a two-time All-Region honoree, led the team in scoring last season and ranked sixth in the ACC in goals per game. She comes into the year with 33 career goals and five assists for 71 points. Iacobucci, a three-time All-South Region First Team honoree, has started 76 games over the last four seasons and has been a fixture in UVA’s midfield. Both will use their COVID bonus year of eligibility to pursue master’s degrees at the University while bolstering the Cavaliers’ goal-scoring abilities.

Last season’s breakout star, Mendez-Trendler, returns for her second season with the Cavaliers. The midfielder was a third-team All-American, the sixth UVA freshman named an All-American in her rookie season, and earned a place on the All-ACC first team, tallying 19 points with eight goals and three assists.

Senior Lilly Hengerer, junior Noa Boterman and sophomore Caroline Nemec will also be crucial elements of that midfield core.

In addition to the 18 returning letterwinners, the Cavaliers have five incoming first years and a pair of grad transfers from the University of California. Rachel Buttinger led the Golden Bears in points last season, while midfielder Megan Connors, a former US U19 Junior National Team member, earned America East All-Tournament Team honors in 2021.

“The newcomers, including the grad transfers, all have the potential and ability to add value to the squad,” Madison said. “Once they get the  ‘UVA WAY’ systems under their belt and build connections on the field, they will have to compete for playing time every day, every minute, every second.

“The challenge for the coaches will be to utilize as many talents as possible. The challenge for the team will be to compete. They need to bring their game in practice and be ready to put it out on the field when their name is called for however long they are on the field.”

It will not just be the talented defense, the experienced midfield, and the explosive strikers that will hopefully bring Madison her 15th NCAA tournament berth since coming to UVA, but the greatest intangible: chemistry.

“This team loves to compete against each other and then finish the training with a hug or high five,” Madison said. “The days can’t go fast enough until we are together to start the final prep for opening day.”

Virginia opens the season at home in what figures to be a top-10 match-up against Penn State on Friday, August 25. The Cavaliers will also open the postseason at Turf Field, as the field will host the 2023 Atlantic Coast Conference Field Hockey Championship from October 31- November 3.

Fans will have a chance for a sneak preview with two scrimmages, the first against American in Washington, D.C. on August 14 and the other at home at Turf Field on Wednesday, August 16 at 1 p.m. against Longwood.