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Aug. 24, 2010
1:28 p.m.

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Citing extenuating circumstances, UVa asked the NCAA to declare midfielder Felipe Libreros eligible to play soccer this season. The NCAA reviewed the material submitted by Virginia and last week granted the waiver that had been requested.

The ruling rewards a young man who, Cavaliers coach George Gelnovatch said, has done everything right since enrolling at the University in January. It also gives the Wahoos another weapon as they begin defense of the NCAA championship they won last season.

Libreros, a native of Colombia, is a 5-9, 170-pound junior who transferred to UVa from the University of South Florida. Before enrolling at USF, where he played in 2008 and ’09, he attended a community college. He didn’t play soccer at the community college but instead concentrated on improving his English.

Because UVa didn’t accept transfer credits from the community college, Gelnovatch said, Libreros was a little short of the hours he needed to meet NCAA requirements for academic progress. But after explaining his situation to the NCAA in an appeal, Virginia got the ruling it hoped for Friday.

“We made the announcement to the team,” Gelnovatch said Tuesday morning, “and everybody was so happy for him.”

Those who have worked with Libreros at UVa, from academic advisors to the compliance staff to the strength-and-conditioning coaches to Gelnovatch and his assistants, have come away impressed. Librerors received straight A’s in summer school, Gelnovatch said.

“He was a model student-athlete all summer long, working his butt off,” Gelnovatch said. “When he can be rewarded for his hard work and perseverance, it’s a real good thing.”

As a freshman at South Florida, Libreros played with goalie Diego Restrepo, who transferred to UVa after the season and helped the ‘Hoos win the NCAA championship last year.

Libreros appeared in 14 games in 2009 for a USF team that finished 14-4-3 after losing to eventual runner-up Akron in the NCAA tournament’s first round. After enrolling at UVa, Libreros practiced with the Cavaliers in the spring but wasn’t allowed to play in their exhibition games.

Virginia has played twice this preseason, beating VCU 1-0 on Friday and VMI 4-0 on Monday night. Against the Keydets, Libreros scored the final goal, using his heel to deftly redirect a corner kick from Ari Dimas in the 79th minute.

Gelnovatch said the coaching staff is still trying to figure out how to best use Libreros.

“This spring, all he did was train with us,” Gelnovatch said. “He didn’t play in any games, so we couldn’t get a real feel for where he’s going to help us. We think he’s got enough ability, athletically and from a soccer standpoint, to help us, and that’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

* UVa’s coaches are encouraged by the recent play of Ahkeel Rodney, a 6-1, 165-pound sophomore from Elmont, N.Y.

“Right now he’s a top reserve coming in as a center forward,” Gelnovatch said. “He’s come in the past two games. He scored a goal last night [versus VMI] and set up one the other night [against VCU]. So he’s a handful. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s athletic.

“When he’s coming in with 20 minutes left and you’re a defender who’s been playing for 70 minutes and you got a guy like him coming in, it’s not a lot of fun.”

A lack of commitment to conditioning held Rodney back as a freshman, particularly in the spring, but he showed up for preseason practice in excellent shape.

“I think he took to heart his fitness,” Gelnovatch said. “Came back, passed all the fitness tests. Has dropped some weight.”

In one of UVa’s fitness tests, a player must run two miles in 12 minutes or less, and that had been a struggle for Rodney.

“He addressed that right out of the gate,” Gelnovatch said. “He passed the fitness test on the first try. In the spring, it probably took him seven tries.”

* UVa’s third and final exhibition is Saturday at 7 p.m. against George Mason in Fairfax.

Virginia opens the regular season Sept. 3 against UAB at Klöckner Stadium. The game is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m.

Jeff White

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