Michelle Vittese Photo by USA Field Hockey/Yuchen Nie.

Paige Selenski sensed something big would happen in the finals of the field hockey Pan Am games, and she told her father as much. “The U.S. has never won the Pan Ams,” Selenski (Col ’13) says. “I told my dad that if he came, we would win it.”

Selenski and Michelle Vittese (Col ’13), both of whom took a year off from school to be a part of Team USA, helped the squad battle to the championship game of the Pan Ams in Mexico in October. They faced No. 1 Argentina, knowing that a U.S. victory would clinch a spot in the 2012 Olympics.

Selenski, a speedy All-American midfielder, showed why she has led the Cavaliers in scoring for three consecutive seasons. She took a pass in the center of the field, raced to her right around two defenders and scored the game’s first goal.

Vittese made her mark later in the game, and her goal was no less dramatic. With Argentina threatening to tie the match, she pounced on a defender’s missed trap, dribbled deftly into the circle and scored to seal a 4-2 win.

“It was one of the best feelings in the world, because it put us two goals up on the No. 1 team in the world,” says Vittese, also an All-American.

Though Team USA qualified for the Olympics, Selenski and Vittese won’t know until the roster is announced later this year if they will be on the squad. Their future relies on hard work, avoiding injury and continuing to adjust to a whole new level of play.

“International hockey is very, very different,” Vittese says. “It’s extremely intense, extremely fast and a little more powerful. The game is more intricate, more complex.”

Michelle Vittese and Paige Selenski wearing the medals they received at the 2011 Pan Am games.

UVA fans can get a taste of international action when Argentina visits Charlottesville in June to play Team USA. Cavalier Coach Michele Madison is negotiating a date for a “friendly” match on UVA’s blue turf, the same type of surface that will be used in the Olympics.

Madison had her hands full adjusting to the absence of Selenski and Vittese as the pair redshirted this past season, when the team went 8-12.

“It was a really big void, and something you can’t fix overnight,” Madison says. “The team all of a sudden went from one with a lot of experience to one that was very young. We had our growing pains, for sure.”

Both players say they are eager to share lessons learned on the international pitch when they return to UVA in the fall for their final year of eligibility. Selenski, with 73 career goals, is within reach of UVA’s scoring record of 101 goals, set by Meridith Thorpe (Col ’99) from 1995-98. Selenski, though, has other objectives in mind.

“My biggest goal is to win a national championship. All the individual stuff—If it happens, it happens,” she says.

The two already have inspired their UVA teammates, who gathered around the television to watch the Pan Am final. “We had to play Duke the next day,” Madison says, “and they were saying, ‘UVA is going to the Olympics!’”

One other person was inspired by the match—Selenski’s father, Brian. He made the trip from Pennsylvania to Mexico based on his daughter’s promise that history would be made.

“I’ve never seen him so happy,” Selenski said. “It was great to have him there.”