By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The goal, as always, is to win the NCAA championship. The UVa men’s soccer team reached the pinnacle in 2009 and would like nothing better than to repeat this season.
But that, George Gelnovatch cautioned, won’t be easy.
“The bottom line, especially now with Shawn Barry out, is this is going to be a little bit of a — I don’t know if ‘rebuilding’ is the right word — but we’re going to be trying a little bit to put some pieces together,” Gelnovatch, UVa’s longtime coach, said the other day. “We do have some pieces, but at the same time, this is going to be a little bit of a rebuilding year.”
The Cavaliers, ranked No. 2 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America preseason poll, will begin practice Tuesday. Gelnovatch knew he’d have to replace several standouts from the team that finished 19-3-3 and beat Akron for the NCAA title, but he expected to have back Barry, a starting defender.
“Shawn was instrumental in helping us win a national championship and an ACC championship, but didn’t hold up his obligations from an academic standpoint, and that’s plain and simple,” Gelnovatch said. “And when you don’t do that, you’re asked to leave [the University] for a year.”
Might Barry return in 2011? “It’s possible,” Gelnovatch said, “but I know he’s keeping some options open, potentially trying to play professionally if a good-enough offer becomes available.”
The Wahoos allowed only eight goals last season, and three starters return from that formidable defense — Mike Volk, Greg Monaco and Hunter Jumper — along with goalie Diego Restrepo.
Barry’s spot on the defense is likely to be filled by sophomore Sean Murnane or senior T.J. Cyrus, Gelnovatch said. There may be additional shuffling of players.
“Hunter Jumper was arguably our best player this spring, and we’re considering moving him into Ross LaBauex’s position in the holding midfield position,” Gelnovatch said.
“He’s big (6-2, 175), he moves well, he’s got terrific feet, he can hit the heck out of the ball, he’s tough, he’s fit. I think that could be a very good position for him.”
If Jumper moves to the midfield, sophomore Sean Hiller might replace him at left back. Hiller is best-known for the penalty kick he made against Akron, a game in which he didn’t play in the 110 minutes that preceded penalty kicks.
“He’s going to get a real chance to step up,” Gelnovatch said. “I’ve already talked to him. There’s no guarantees, but right now that’s an opportunity for him.”
Another strength of this team should be its forwards, a group led by junior Brian Ownby, sophomore Will Bates and freshman Brian “Cobi” Span.
“Last year it was the wide guys who were the role players and the central guys who were dangerous,” Gelnovatch said. “This year it could be reversed.”
Midfielders Jonathan Villanueva and Tony Tchani, who in January was the second pick in the MLS draft, left the biggest holes in the lineup, at least from an offensive standpoint.
In 2009, Tchani and Villanuevea worked “kind of side by side, behind Will Bates, and that posed some problems [for opponents],” Gelnovatch said.
“This year it’s going to be a little different. It’s going to be Bates, and then it’s going to be Span and Ownby who are going to cause some problems, probably from wide positions. And then the guys under it, instead of having a Tchani and a Villanueva, we’ll probably have two guys that just work real hard and are just role players.”
Span, an imposing figure at 6-3, 180 pounds, isn’t the only freshman who could see playing time this fall. Gelnovatch is intrigued by 5-6, 145-pound Bryan Lima, whose parents are from Brazil.
“He’s a little guy, but fast as hell and tricky as hell and left-footed,” Gelnovatch said. “I’m not counting on him being in the [starting] lineup or anything like that, but I’m counting on him being a dangerous attacking option.”
Because of injuries and his obligations with the U.S. team at FIFA’s under-20 World Cup, Ownby was a part-time player for UVa in 2009. He’s healthy again and is “dangerous as hell,” Gelnovatch said. “With Brian and Bates and then this kid Brian Span, that’s three pretty dangerous guys.
“Last year I don’t think we had anybody super-dynamic, other than when Ownby kind of came in for flashes. So that part will be a little bit different, a little bit better. We just need to sort out a couple of other things and head in the right direction.”
WAITING GAME: One of the program’s most talented newcomers is Felipe Libreros. But it’s unclear if Libreros, a transfer from the University of South Florida, will play for the ‘Hoos this season.
UVa submitted a request to the NCAA this week, asking that Libreros be declared eligible.
Virginia didn’t accept some of the credits Libreros, a native of Colombia, earned in community college before he enrolled at USF, Gelnovatch said, so he doesn’t currently meet NCAA requirements for academic progress. Libreros didn’t play soccer at his community college; he went there simply to learn English.
“This is a very good academic institution, and sometimes kids are coming from lesser places, and things don’t transfer,” Gelnovatch said. “But this is different, because of this community-college issue, which he knew nothing about.”
Libreros earned straight A’s at UVa this summer, Gelnovatch said.
As a freshman at South Florida in 2008, Libreros played with Restrepo, who transferred to UVa after that season. Libreros appeared in 14 games in 2009 for a USF team that finished 14-4-3 after losing to Akron in the NCAA tournament’s first round.
Libreros enrolled at UVa in January. The 5-9, 170-pound forward/midfielder practiced with the team in the spring but wasn’t allowed to play in its exhibition games.
BACK HOME: Ole Hengelbrock, who practiced with the ‘Hoos in 2009 but wasn’t cleared by the NCAA to play, has returned to his native Germany.
A defender, Hengelbrock would have had to sit out this season and half of another before being eligible to play, Gelnovatch said.
Hengelbrock had competed as an amateur while growing up in Germany, but he played occasionally with professionals, and that caused problems for him with the NCAA.
In Hamburg, Hengelbrock has enrolled full time at a university and “signed with a fourth-division club,” Gelnovatch said, “so he’s kind of going back to what he was doing before he came here, which was playing on a team and going to school.”
Hengelbrock excelled academically at Virginia, Gelnovatch said. “He was a model student-athlete.”