By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In its opener, his team failed to score against Penn State. That part didn’t thrill UVa women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson, but he liked much of what he saw in the 1-0 loss at State College, Pa.
“The chances that we created in that game stood out to us,” Swanson said this week at the McCue Center. “We didn’t finish that well, mind you, but when you get those kind of chances against a team like that, you feel pretty good.
“The problem wasn’t so much the creating chances, which is probably the harder part, it was finishing. And you feel if you keep working on that, that will come, hopefully.”
Indeed, the goals have come regularly for UVa since the opener. The ‘Hoos whipped Liberty 5-0 and then hammered Hofstra 7-0.
“I think Hofstra’s a good team,” Swanson said. “They’ve been to the NCAA tournament, they’ve almost been giant-killers, they almost knocked off Penn State a year ago. Once we got isolated with our players, we caused some problems and we did some damage in terms of goals. I think we have that capability. Whether we can do that consistently is still out there.”
He’ll know more after this weekend. The 11th-ranked Cavaliers are in Tempe, Ariz., for the Sun Devil Classic. UVa (2-1) meets Arizona (0-2-1) on Friday night, then takes on host Arizona State (2-1) on Sunday afternoon.
“It’s a longer road trip for us, and I think we’ll be battling two good teams away from home, in some heat,” Swanson said. “It’s going to test us mentally a little bit, test us physically.”
In forward Caroline Miller, UVa has one of the nation’s premier freshmen. But she’s not the only gem in her class.
“I think we’ve all been impressed with how far along our first-years are,” Swanson said. “Some of them aren’t playing like first-years, and that’s been a real asset to our team so far.
“I think probably the biggest area where that’s come out is our depth. We can play a lot of players, and our level is still very high. So it allows us to keep the tempo high, it allows us to put pressure on teams, and I think that came through, for instance, in the Hofstra game. I thought they were a good team. They fought us hard for a half or so, 60 minutes, but I think they kind of broke down in the 60th to 90th minute, and we took off a little bit more.”
With 10 points, on three goals and four assists, Miller is the team’s leading scorer.
“The scary thing about Caroline is, as much as she’s done – and I think she would even say this — she’s not even half the player that I think she can be,” Swanson said. “The potential for her to really grow is enormous. But she has some special qualities as a goal-scorer and as a creator. I think that’s been showcased against some very good teams. She did that against Notre Dame, she did that against Georgetown [in exhibitions]. She did that against Penn State. This has come out almost every game.
“She has unique skills and a unique mentality that makes her unbelievably unpredictable right around the goal. You just don’t know what she’s going to do. Her blood pressure doesn’t get very high, her pulse doesn’t get too high in the box, with two or three people around her. That’s very difficult to teach.”
Swanson’s biggest concern heading into the season was his inexperienced defense. That group has improved steadily, thanks in part to Chantel Jones’ play in the goal.
Jones, 21, is only a sophomore athletically, but she’s in her fourth year at UVa. She redshirted in 2006, played in ’07 and then missed last season to compete for the United States in the under-20 World Cup. The NCAA essentially granted her a second redshirt year at Virginia because of that international experience.
“She’s grown up,” Swanson said. “I think she has a better understanding of the game and the players around her and her role as a leader in the back. She’s always had a physical presence in goal, she’s always had a strong kicking game, but I think she’s recognizing at times when she can throw it and when our team can keep possession of it. I think she’s capable and always has been capable of making the big save, but I just find her being a little more sophisticated in her organization of the team and her understanding of what our team needs at different times.”
UVa assistant Kerry Dziczkaniec, who was a standout goalie at George Washington, works closely with Jones. This is the second stint at Virginia for Dziczkaniec, who was Vermont’s head coach for four seasons before returning to Charlottesville in 2008.
“I really just met Chantel last year,” Dziczkaniec said. “But certainly in a year’s time, her maturity has helped her recognize she has responsibilities to her position as well as the team. As a result, she’s become more disciplined about her training, about her leadership and about game day, if you will … She’s excited, she comes with enthusiasm. That’s key to the position. She’s willing to work very hard to help her team to victory, whatever that might be.”