Field Hockey 2011 Season Preview Part 2: Schedule and Expectations

On Monday, we discussed the significant losses of the Field Hockey program since the 2010 season. There are a lot of big, important names missing from the 2011 roster. But there's still talent on this team - plenty of talent.

Today, we're going to discuss what that remaining talent is going to face this season. The Cavaliers enter the season ranked third in the country in the pre-season poll. That sounds pretty good. But the two teams ahead of them? Both ACC teams and of course both on the schedule. Ouch.

Let's dive in after the jump.

How the Schedule Looks

The National Field Hockey Coaches Association released their 2011 pre-season poll today, and, in their 19 game schedule, the Cavaliers face 10 of the top 20 teams in the nation. Yikes.

Of course, a lot of that has to do with playing in the ACC. There are five other ACC schools that play Field Hockey and all five are ranked in the top 20 with Virginia. Take a look at this listing of the teams and when we play them (home games are in italics):

Nationally Ranked ACC Teams
School Date Ranking
University of Maryland September 30th 1
University of North Carolina October 15th 2
University of Virginia 3
Wake Forest University October 22nd 11
Boston College September 23rd 14
Duke University October 29th 15

About the only positive thing I can think to say about the ACC slate is that we have 3 home games and only 2 away games. Also, at least we split the Maryland/North Carolina gauntlet into a home and away. But Maryland, the top-ranked team is an away game. We also play our tougher games earlier. The Terps and Heels are our 2nd and 3rd ACC games. 

What about the non-conference games? Here's a similar listing for the ranked non-conference teams (again, home games are in italics):

Nationally Ranked Opponents
School Date Ranking
University of Connecticut October 9th 4
Princeton University October 7th 7
Penn State University August 28th 8
Old Dominion University September 4th 12
Michigan State University September 10th 13

Outside of not having any teams ranked in the top 3, this doesn't look much easier than the ACC slate. In fact, the average ranking of the two groups is just under 9th in each case. 

The Cavaliers also have a few non-conference teams that aren't ranked on their schedule. Those schools are VCU (receiving votes, August 26th), Towson (September 2nd), James Madison (receiving votes, September 7th), Miami (Ohio) (September 9th), California (receiving votes, September 17th), Northwestern (receiving votes, September 18th), Richmond (receiving votes, September 25th), UC Davis (October 6th), William & Mary (October 17th). As you can see, a large number of these teams are receiving votes. Though, to be frank, there just aren't that many Field Hockey teams in the NCAA and A LOT of them at least received a vote (24 teams outside the top 20 received votes).

What Are the Expectations

If Michele Madison and the 2011 Cavaliers were playing with a full deck of cards, there'd be no doubt that I'd consider us a contender for the title this year. Maryland and Carolina are both very, very good. But Virginia would be as well.

But that's not the cards we're playing with this year. Coach Madison has a bit of a rebuilding year on her hands. And the schedule is not one that a coach in a rebuilding year wants to see. 

Still, clearly the coaches around the country think Virginia will be good - ranking them 3rd in the country even (I assume) being aware of who will not be on the team. And you don't get to be ranked that high in a sport like Field Hockey just because of one or two players. It's a team effort and this team has talent. 

My prediction is that we'll finish 3-2 in the ACC, with losses to Maryland and Carolina. Unless something happens to those two teams, I just have a hard time envisioning the Cavaliers, in a rebuilding year, being able to beat either of them.

For the non-conference schedule, I think we're in pretty good shape, but I see us stumbling once or twice with all the road games we have (13 of our 19 games are away from the Turf Field). If I had to guess, I'd say we would go 12-2 through the non-conference slate with losses to Old Dominion (early road game) and Princeton (very good team, on the road).

That would give the team a 15-4 record heading into the ACC tournament and a likely 3rd place finish in the ACC. Here's where my predictions get interesting. I think this team matures greatly during the season and really gels. There's too much talent and too much pride for it not to happen. I'm predicting the ladies will make it to the championship game this year, before falling to Maryland. 

I urge you, dear reader, to head on out to the Turf Field this weekend (and many times in the future) to cheer on the field hockey team. Any little extra kick - like that of a raucous crowd - may be just what this team needs to get over the potential personnel hurdles this year. Go Hoos!

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