The Virginia field hockey team knew coming into its clash with No. 1 Duke on Friday that the ACC rival boasted a stingy defense. The Blue Devils in fact had posted three shutouts in three games.
The Cavaliers solved that scoring puzzle with the age old adage: keep it simple. Steer clear of traffic jams, avoid trying to do too much with the ball on your stick, stay away from careless turnovers, and pressure but stay disciplined without overpursuit. That propelled No. 10 UVA to a convincing 4-1 victory at University Hall Turf Field.
The Hoos had knocked off the No. 1 team in the nation only one other time, which came 16 years ago in 2001 against No. 1 Maryland.
“We put in a lot of hard work in practice and came ready to play,” Virginia coach Michele Madison said. ”I thought everyone had a great game. I can think of at least one terrific play that each person on the field had today. We were just focused on getting positive results, getting to the 25 and getting to the circle. In the first half, we weren’t getting the results we wanted from our 25-penetration, so we focused on fixing that and keeping it as simple as possible.”
“We have a secret weapon every game. We call it K.I.S.S. – keep it simple stupid,” UVA junior striker Greta Ell said. “We definitely kept it simple this game. Inside-outside passes and see it, give it.”
Statistically, the Cavaliers (4-1, 1-0 ACC) controlled the rhythm of the game. They nearly doubled up Duke (3-1, 0-1 ACC) on shots, dominated in corner attempts, and spent long stretches of time on their offensive end of the field. Sporting the nation’s No. 1 offense entering the game at 6.75 goals per game, Virginia kept up the pressure against the Devils’ defense with a 29-14 shot advantage and a 17-5 edge in penalty corners. (Get the final stats here.)
Not surprisingly, senior midfielder Tara Vittese played a big role in all of that. After garnering National Offensive Player of the Week honors last week with eight goals in two games, she added two more to her season tally Friday. She’s now got 14 goals already this season and is rapidly closing in on her best season output of 17 as a freshman. Vittese fired off 11 shots against Duke with seven of them on goal and scored twice. She accounted for the game’s bookend goals, the first 22:19 in on a Makayla Gallen assist and the last at 58:15 on an unassisted rebound shot from the backhand side.
Those tallies slipped past Duke goalkeeper Sammi Steele, who had earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors last week as well. Steele ended up with eight saves, which UVA goalkeeper Carrera Lucas matched.
Vittese had plenty of help with a concept as simple as Kindergarten class: sharing. The Hoos slipped the ball around and through gaps in the defense and took turns firing off rockets on penalty corners. In addition to the Vittese scores, UVA picked up a deflection goal from Ell on an Izzy McDonough assist and a Rachel Robinson goal on an Anzel Viljoen assist.
Ell’s redirect may have been the pivotal moment in the game. The Blue Devils tied the contest with the Haley Schleicher equalizer at the 27:32 mark. If that 1-1 stalemate gets to halftime, there might have been a different tone after intermission. Instead, Ell knocked in her goal less than two minutes later to put Duke in chase mode for much of the second half.
That catch-up theme only grew with Robinson and Vittese adding to the Cavalier column in the final 20 minutes.
”Probably right place, right time,” Ell said of her penalty corner goal. ”As an R2 on the post, you really just kind of hope for the best. Put your stick on the ground, trust your teammates, and hope that it gets in the goal so you’ve just got to touch it if you can. It kind of gives you the momentum you need, especially in the first half going into the second half. This is a really good team so we were really excited to come out strong.”