By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Every time he walks down the hall outside the men’s soccer locker room at University Hall, senior Neil Barlow sees the UVa men’s lacrosse team celebrating the NCAA title it won in 2006.

The unbridled joy of Dom Starsia’s players is impossible to miss in the gigantic photo mounted on the wall alongside similar shots of other national champions from UVa. That’s a feeling Barlow and his teammates crave, and they hope to experience it Sunday afternoon in Cary, N.C., site of the College Cup.

“We want to get our pictures up on the wall at U-Hall,” said Barlow, the third-leading scorer for Virginia (17-3-3), which meets ACC rival Wake Forest (17-3-3) in an NCAA semifinal Friday at 5 p.m.

“We see lacrosse’s [2006] national championship picture, and all of us just strive for that. We want to be part of something special and go down in history, especially at a school like this that has such a rich history.”

UVa has won five NCAA titles in men’s soccer, all under Bruce Arena, George Gelnovatch’s predecessor as coach. But the Wahoos haven’t won the national championship since 1994, a date of which Gelnovatch’s players are aware.

At the start of the NCAA tournament last month, junior forward Chase Neinken wrote this on the chalkboard in UVa’s locker room:

15 years

“And that’s just been driving us,” Barlow said. “When you see us in our little huddles before the games, we constantly talk about adding [another NCAA title].”

This is Virginia’s third trip to the College Cup under Gelnovatch, a former UVa All-American and assistant coach who succeeded his mentor, Arena, in January 1996.

Each of the first two appearances ended with a loss to UCLA. The Bruins beat the ‘Hoos 2-0 in the 1997 championship game and 4-0 in the 2006 semifinals.

“In 2006, I think we were just so excited to be at the College Cup,” said Barlow, a seldom-used freshman on that team. “We’d never really wrapped our head around being national champions.

“But now, George has kept us strictly focused on, yes, we got to the College Cup, and that’s a huge achievement, but it doesn’t stop now. We still have two more games to win to get our end goal.

“Even in our locker room, we have a big pyramid sitting there with a top goal saying ‘National Championship.’ Getting to the College Cup is great, but with a team like this, we should definitely get there and even go further than that.”

UVa clinched a spot in the College Cup by blanking defending NCAA champion Maryland 3-0 last Friday in a quarterfinal at Klöckner Stadium.

The team met the next day to train, Gelnovatch recalled, and “the thing we said to the guys was, ‘That game Friday night was not our national championship. We enjoyed it last night, it was terrific, great crowd, and it was really fun, all that stuff. But starting today and moving forward, let’s remember that was not our national championship game. And the team that’s going to win this thing is the team dialed in, totally all in, not getting distracted, not just happy to be there.'”

When he looks back at 2006, Gelnovatch said, “I feel like we probably could have been a little bit more dialed in and focused on what we were doing there. Not that we came in unprepared or unfocused or anything like that. But there were a couple things I learned, and moving forward we’ll do things a little differently.”

In their Sept. 18 regular-season matchup, the ‘Hoos beat the Demon Deacons 1-0 in Winston-Salem, N.C. They met again in the ACC tournament, and Virginia again prevailed, winning on penalty kicks to advance to the championship game.

“It’s always fun to play them,” Barlow said. “It’s always a good game, it’s always tight.”

This is the fourth straight trip to the College Cup for Wake, whose stars include senior Austin da Luz and junior Corben Bone.

“We know exactly what to expect out of Wake,” Barlow said. “It’s going to come down to closing down [da Luz and Bone]. If we close those players down, we can do well in the game.”

The Wahoos have closed down every opponent they’ve faced since Oct. 17, when they allowed a goal in a win over Virginia Tech. With 11 straight shutouts, UVa has tied the NCAA record.

Junior keeper Diego Restrepo has not allowed a goal in 1,107 minutes and 34 seconds.

The Cavaliers don’t want that scoreless streak to end, of course, but they realize it could happen in Cary. That doesn’t have to result in a UVa defeat.

“We’ve talked about that a little bit as a team,” Barlow said. “I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to react, but I feel like it might almost anger us to a point where it might drive us to play even better.

“Because we’re all a part of that shutout streak. We want Diego to go down in NCAA history for that. It might infuriate us, spark us up to play even better.”

Unbeaten Akron and North Carolina meet in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal Friday. The NCAA championship game is Sunday at 1 p.m., also at WakeMed Soccer Park.


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