Back on the soccer field within weeks of a serious preseason car accident, Virginia midfielder Kelly Hammond played most of the season at something less than her usual all-star level. But last night she served notice of her return to full health, tying NCAA tournament records with three goals and seven points as the Cavaliers romped to a first-round win over James Madison University, 6-0, in Charlottesville.
The third-seeded Cavs (17-2-2) have been among the nation's best teams all season, but they have begun to peak in recent weeks as Hammond, a preseason player of the year candidate, rounded into top form. Last weekend, they broke North Carolina's 15-year hold on the ACC championship, and against JMU, they put together a performance worthy of the highest NCAA seed in program history.
"It's been a hard road, but I'm glad that things are starting to become easier at the right time," said Hammond, a junior from Bowie. "I've just been looking forward to the time where I'm playing like I was this summer, playing like I was last fall."
Hammond was lucky to survive an Aug. 2 crash in which her Jeep flipped five times. Thrown from the vehicle, she escaped with relatively minor shoulder, ankle and leg injuries and was in the starting lineup when Virginia opened the season 25 days later. She started every game this season, but wasn't herself.
"I think it just needed time," Coach Steve Swanson said. "That was probably the biggest thing that was frustrating for her -- that here's a level that she's used to playing and she's not there. . . . What you're seeing now in the last three weeks is a healthy Kelly Hammond."
Hammond got Virginia's relentless attack started in the 14th minute with a booming shot from the top of the box that glanced off two defenders before going in. In the 53rd minute, she nudged in another goal after goalkeeper Jessica Hussey fumbled a loose ball in the box, and then got her hat trick -- Virginia's first in three years -- with a straight-on blast in the 73rd minute.
Noelle Keselica (Watkins Mill), Shannon Foley and Julia Falk scored to complete the rout, giving the Cavaliers a program-record 62 goals this season and sending them into a second-round game in Charlottesville tomorrow against Duke, which beat Virginia Commonwealth, 2-1, in last night's second game.
-- Jim Reedy