Nov. 19, 2009

Semifinal Quotes

By Amy Farnum

The future is certainly bright for the University of Virginia field hockey team, but the Cavaliers are pretty happy with the present, too.

With 14 freshmen and sophomores on this year’s roster – and only two seniors – UVa is definitely experiencing a youth movement, which features the outstanding play of high school teammates Paige Selenski and Tara Puffenberger, as the Cavaliers set out to compete in their first NCAA semifinal game since 1998.
Two of the Cavaliers’ top three scorers, Selenski and Puffenberger have been playing together for several years.  They first met as eight and nine-year-olds in youth soccer, but then took up field hockey in the fifth and sixth grades.  

The elder Selenski, a sophomore, and Puffenberger, a freshman, both excelled at the sport and began participating in The Futures Program, an Olympic Development initiative.

“We got involved in Futures and both got pretty good,” said Puffenberger.  “We just stuck on the same team and went along with each other.”

Eventually, the pair ended up at Dallas High School in Dallas, Pa., as high school teammates and competed for the Pennsylvania state championship in Selenski’s senior season.

“We made it to the semifinals and lost,” said Selenski.  “It was a huge upset for us.  I know it was hard for both of us to get over that.  A national championship would be so much better than a high school state championship so I think we’re both looking forward to win one at some point in our careers and hopefully this year.”

The duo has also been USA Junior National teammates, most recently at the Junior World Cup over the summer, and now are experiencing success once again at Virginia.  Selenski, the 2008 Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year and this season’s NFHCA South Region Player of the Year, leads the team with 60 points and ranks 10th in the nation with 2.61 points per game.  Meanwhile, Puffenberger is enjoying her rookie season as the Cavaliers’ third-leading scorer with 23 points.

Along their field hockey journey, Selenski and Puffenberger have built a strong friendship and are happy to be sharing the experience of NCAA postseason play.

“We’ve been best friends since high school when I transferred in my sophomore year,” said Puffenberger.  “It’s obviously a comfort that you have your best friend on your side.”

“It’s great to have someone from the same high school come into your college program and really make a difference and help the program out,” said Selenski.  “(Puffenberger’s) had a big part in getting us where we are today.”

Virginia is making its 16th NCAA Tournament appearance, but has only advanced to the semifinals on two previous occasions (1997 and 1998).  Head coach Michele Madison has led the Cavaliers to four postseason appearances in each of her four years, and is the only coach in NCAA Division I history to take three different teams (Temple, Michigan, Virginia) to the NCAA Tournament.

“I give Coach Madison tons of credit,” said Selenski.  “She’s had a huge part in building this program to where it is today.  I think it’s more exciting to go to a program that is not the best yet, and then help make it be the best.”

The Cavaliers will face North Carolina in the NCAA semifinals on Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m. ET in Winston-Salem, N.C.  It will be the third meeting between the two squads this year as the Tar Heels topped UVa, 2-1, in overtime during the regular season, and the Cavaliers posted a 1-0 victory against UNC in the ACC Tournament.  

Defending NCAA champion and fellow ACC member Maryland and Princeton will meet in the first semifinal at 2 p.m. ET on Friday.  The semifinal winners will battle for the NCAA trophy on Nov. 22 at noon ET in the nationally-televised championship game on CBS Sports College.