'Team of the Decade' Enters 1999 Young but Confident
Aug. 20, 1999
As the decade comes to a close, the Virginia soccer program can take stockof all that it has accomplished over the past nine years and be quite proudof its achievements: an unprecedented four consecutive nationalchampionships, six appearances in the final four, six Atlantic CoastConference championships, six ACC tournament titles, the construction ofone of the nation’s premier collegiate soccer facilities, Kloeckner Stadium,and a plethora of individual honors too numerous to be mentioned here.Virginia’s success, however, has not come free of obstacles. In 1995,legendary head coach Bruce Arena left Virginia for Major League Soccer,later becoming the head coach of the United States National Team. Hisreplacement, former Cavalier All-American and assistant coach GeorgeGelnovatch has not skipped a beat, compiling a record of 51-11-9 over thelast three seasons.
Virginia has also been impacted by Major League Soccer’s Project-40 playerdevelopment program, created to attract the best collegiate soccerunderclassmen into the pro ranks. A total of five Cavaliers have joined theMLS via Project 40 since January of 1998, greatly complicating matters forGelnovatch and his coaching staff. Still, even with the early departure ofsome of UVa’s most promising talent, the Virginia soccer program hascontinued to excel. Last season, a young team rose to the occasion, and ledVirginia to the NCAA quarterfinals for the 10th time in 11 years.In 1999, youth will be served for a second consecutive season. A glance atthe Cavalier roster finds only one senior joined by six juniors, eightsophomores, one red-shirt freshman and eight true freshmen. Five startersreturn from a club that posted a 16-4-3 record in 1998. Despite therelative inexperience, the Cavaliers face a challenging schedule. Countingits preseason exhibition match with Connecticut, Virginia’s 1999 schedulefeatures a total of eight teams which competed in last year’s NCAATournament, including ACC rivals Clemson, Duke and Maryland.Virginia opens the 1999 regular season at home with matches against SetonHall and Gonzaga in the Coca-Cola Classic (September 3-5). UVa latertravels to Pasadena, Calif., to battle 1998 NCAA participants UCLA and CalState-Fullerton in the UCLA Tournament.
Despite a tough schedule and a young squad, Gelnovatch believes his teamhas the talent and the depth to make the Cavaliers a player on the nationalscene once again, further enhancing Virginia’s status as “Team of theDecade.”
With the summer departure of 20-goal scorer Chris Albright to Major LeagueSoccer, some might question whether or not the loss of a top candidate forthe Hermann Trophy will cripple Virginia’s offensive game. Not so,according to Gelnovatch. “The saving grace,” says the fourth-year Cavaliercoach, “is that we recruited a top forward in Ryan Gibbs. “It really wouldhave left us in a tough spot if we had not gotten a top forward.”Gibbs, a 5-11 native of West Chester, Pa., combines great speed andathleticism with a wealth of international soccer experience with the U.S.Under-18 National Team. He is a very versatile player with experience atvirtually every position, including midfield and defense. Gelnovatchcompares Gibbs to former Cavalier All-America forward Brian West-perhapsthe fastest player to ever don a Virginia jersey. “He’s that type of kid,”Gelnovatch says. “He’s very athletic, fast and strong. We expect him tocome in here and help us right away.”
Joining Gibbs up front will be a returning starter from last year’s squad.Sheldon Barnes, a sophomore from Miramar, Fla., started all but three gamesas a freshman, despite suffering from several nagging injuries throughoutthe season. He netted six goals, including two game winners, and added fourassists. Barnes’ goal against South Carolina in the second round of theNCAA Tournament last season stood as the only score of the match as theCavaliers advanced to the NCAA Quarterfinals with a 1-0 victory. Barnesunderwent knee surgery in the offseason and hopes to build on his promisingfreshman campaign.
“Sheldon played at about 75 percent-or-less all last season and still madesome big plays and scored some big goals for us,” says Gelnovatch. “Gettingthe surgery and rest he needed, coupled with the experience he had lastfall, Sheldon really has the potential to have an exciting year.”Also returning to the Virginia front line are sophomores Rob Wright andChris Scott. Wright saw action in 21 games and scored three goals,including the game-winners against Lehigh in overtime and third-rankedDuke. Scott played in four games as a freshman.
With some experienced depth and a top-rated freshman anchoring theposition, Gelnovatch is cautiously optimistic about his team’s ability toput the ball in the net. “Ryan will still be a freshman and Sheldon playedinjured last year but, given the circumstances, we will need them to stepup.”
All-America candidate Ryan Trout, senior Drew O’Donnell and sophomorestandout Steve Totten join several of the nation’s leading rising freshmento produce what should be the Cavaliers’ deepest position if not itsstrongest. Virginia’s abundance of talent at this position should helpoffset the loss of 1998 starters Jason Moore and Sam Franklin.Gelnovatch is counting on Trout to build on a solid 1998 sophomore seasonin which he finished among the top-10 players in the ACC in points (23) andassists (11).
“Ryan strikes a ball and crosses a ball as good or better than anyone inthe country,” says Gelnovatch. “Now we need him to tap his leadershipskills and impact the game on the defensive end. He needs to be involved inevery aspect of the game. In order for us to be successful, we are countingon Ryan to take on those roles.”
The lone senior on this year’s squad, Drew O’Donnell, brings a wealth ofsoccer experience and versatility into the fold. He has played in 48 gamesover his career, totaling over 2500 minutes. O’Donnell has tallied 14career points.
Totten provided solid play as a freshman in 1998, recording six goals andseven assists. Making a quick adjustment to college soccer, he netted thelone Virginia goal in a 1-1 tie at Cal State Fullerton in the Cavaliers’second match of the season.
Joining Trout, O’Donnell and Totten in the middle will be severalhighly-touted young talents. Kyle Martino, widely regarded as the nation’stop incoming freshman, should bolster the Cavalier offense. “We reallyhaven’t had a true attacking center midfielder here in several years,” saysGelnovatch. “Kyle is a very good technical player. His passing, his visionand his touch on the ball will all add an extra dimension to our attack. Hereminds me of [1997 first-team All-American] Ben Olsen in his physique andmovement.
Gelnovatch expects several other newcomers to make an impact as well. EricSolomon will compete for playing time in the midfield and on defense. “He’sa good passer and dribbler,” Gelnovatch says. “Eric will have anopportunity to help us right away.”
One Cavalier freshman will be very familiar with his new surroundings.Kenny Arena grew up in Charlottesville while his father Bruce led Virginiato five national championships. “Kenny is a tall, athletic kid at 6’2. He’sreally developed over the past two years into a player who is going to helpus at the deep-central midfield position,” says Gelnovatch.
Returning to add depth in the middle are juniors Curtis Bush, MikeMcQuatters and Kito Pruitt. Bush played 450 minutes in 1998, scoring bothof his goals in the ACC Tournament. McQuatters saw action in 10 games lastfall, while Pruitt played in six.
With the loss of All-American Matt Chulis and two-year starter MichaelGreen to graduation, the Cavaliers have some big shoes to fill on defense.Gelnovatch hopes to find a new combination that will be able to gel as aunit. He expects preseason workouts will be especially competitive asveterans and first-years battle for starting roles.
“We certainly have the talent to be a solid unit but we almost have tostart from scratch and teach our system to the younger players,” Gelnovatchsays.
Among those already familiar with UVa’s defensive system are sophomoreMarshall Leonard and juniors Mike Feller and Chad Prince. Leonard started22 games in 1998 and blended in well with a veteran defensive unit. He alsosaw action in the midfield, registering two assists. Feller providesvaluable ball-handling skills as well as experience. He played in 16 gamesin 1998, starting 13, and tallied one assist. Like Leonard, he saw time ondefense and in the midfield. Prince has played in 17 games over the pasttwo seasons. He is coming off a promising spring and appears ready to makea major contribution in the fall.
Highly-touted freshmen Carter Burgess and Jonathan Cole should also make apositive impact on UVa’s defensive unit.
“Burgess is a good man-marker and he plays tenacious defense,” Gelnovatchsays. “He is definitely going to play a key role for us.”
Gelnovatch also anticipates getting key contributions from Cole, a two-timeNSCAA Player of the Year in Maryland.
“Jonathan is a big kid. He’s a technical player with a lot of gooddefensive skills,” says Gelnovatch.
Sophomore Matt Beran provides additional experience and depth.
Following the graduation of last year’s starting goalkeeper Brock Yetso andhis backup Mike Forensich, red-shirt freshman Kyle Singer is expected toget the starting nod. Though Singer did not play in 1998, Gelnovatchbelieves he is ready to play at the collegiate level. “Kyle is not reallygoing to be a freshman in terms of his experience,” Gelnovatch says. He’shad a great spring and we are expecting great things from him.”
Singer played for two years with the U.S. Under-17 squad. He earned NSCAAand Parade All-America honors for his play at Armstrong High School inPlymouth, Minn. Gelnovatch expects it will take some time for Singer toadjust to the style of his defense but he is very confident in thered-shirt freshman’s ability to step up and solidify Virginia’s back line.Sophomores Nelson Cupello and Mark Martinson, and freshman David Comfortare expected to compete for the backup job behind Singer.