Q & A With George Gelnovatch
George Gelnovatch, now in his 15th year as head coach of the UVa men’s soccer program, recently checked in with VirginiaSports.com. He answered questions about preseason practice, an upcoming visit to the White House and the Cavaliers’ three upcoming exhibition contests.
Question: The first couple days of practices are in the books. Talk about a typical day of training during this preseason time?
Gelnovatch: Last Tuesday we officially started our preseason and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we had double training sessions. The way we do things is pretty tough on players, so coming into the VCU match last Friday, probably like most teams, we were a little fatigued. But at the same time I think we’ve got enough accomplished where getting a game in against a quality opponent like VCU gave us a little bit of an indication of where we are in particular with a couple of guys in different spots.
Hunter Jumper is going to be in a different position, a holding midfield position. Felipe Libreros, who is a USF transfer, will play during the preseason so we are excited to get him onto the field. We’ll have a début of a couple of our freshmen that we’re excited about so we are getting a chance to see how they fit in so these early games will give us little bit something more to sink our teeth into.
Question: This is your first preseason, at least as head coach, being the reigning national champion. Is it a different feeling?
Gelnovatch: The only thing that is in my mind is the size of the target on our back to be honest with you. The few college teams that we played this spring had a lot extra in the tank when they were playing against us. We played some professional teams, and that didn’t seem to affect them too much, but the college teams that we played this spring, I think reminded me and our team in a very positive way how difficult it’s going to be game in and game out. Not just the big ACC games, but the Tuesday night games with this target on our back and how we need to be prepared for that.
Question: Keeping with the theme of looking back to the spring can you single anyone out that made significant strides or had a particular strong spring season.
Gelnovatch: I think Hunter Jumper was probably our best player in the spring. He played in the left back position . Shawn Murnane made some real strides. He’ll be in the starting lineup during these preseason matches. He didn’t play much last year, but was very much on our mind. Ari Dimas had a good spring and continued to improve. Jimmy Simpson didn’t play much last fall because of nagging injuries, and ended the spring season very well. And has been doing so well so far in preseason.
And those guys coupled with Mike Volk and Greg Monaco who are rock steady, Diego Restrepo who is rock steady, Will Bates who is rock steady. It will be nice having Brian Ownby on the field again.
Question: What are the team’s goals for this year?
Gelnovatch: Obviously I think our program’s goal every year is to win a national championship. That is at the top of our goals. Placed second right underneath that are winning the ACC Championship and being a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament. So those are our goals, we have some other goals underneath that. We want to give up fewer than 15 goals and we want to score more than 40 goals. We would like to win five ACC games and we would like to go undefeated in Klöckner.
Question: The news just came out recently about UVa’s NCAA Championship teams going to the White House. Did you do that as an assistant coach and can you talk about that experience and how you are looking forward to this year’s experience?
Gelnovatch: We went to see President Clinton in ’92 or ’93 I can’t remember the exact year. What it was, it was an awesome experience, a fantastic experience. President Clinton was great with our team. It was just great for our guys. And I think it has been a long time, we only did that once in the five previous national championships. So it’s not just because you win a national championship that you get to go to see the President. So this group, I think, we are fortunate in with this National Championship comes the opportunity to visit the White House and actually get to meet the President. We are working real hard right now we kind of got the news during preseason, so I don’t know if it’s quite sunk in yet how kind of cool it is.
Question: Former Cavalier Alecko Eskandarian is a team manager this season. What brought him back to the program?
Gelnovatch: Alecko was national player of the year in 2002. He was the first overall pick Major League Soccer, and he has been in Major League Soccer since then and has at least one cap on our national team. So he is a guy with a great reputation that people have a lot of respect for. He did receive several concussions in the league. And he is currently not playing. I don’t know if he is fully retired yet, but he is not able to play right now. And he has decided that to work toward finishing his degree.
Alecko is in our degree completion program. It is a great program here in the athletic department for players who have potentially left early to go on to the pros and are returning to finish their degree. I want to make it clear that he is not a coach but that he is our team manager. The value of just having him on the field, the respect that the guys have for him, I think that is great for our team to see a guy like that day in and day out. [Current associate head coach] Matt Chulis did it in 2004 before he was a full-time coach here. It’s great to see in my 15 years a bunch of the guys leave early for the pros and I am slowly checking them off my list of coming back to school and graduating. That’s pretty cool.
Question: It was announced in the spring that Mike Volk and Greg Monaco would serve as captains in 2010. Talk about their leadership.
Gelnovatch: I think our leadership from those two has been good throughout the summer and the spring. They were kind of our unspoken captains during the spring but we made it official by naming them our captains at the end of the spring. And that carried through the summer when they were at summer school here, training together, working out together. The leadership from those two is as good as it’s been since probably Matt Oliver back in 2004. As a coach, if you have one guy that’s got these leadership qualities or in this case two, it makes your job easier. It makes it a lot more enjoyable. They’re doing a great job.
Question: The team enjoyed an amazing run to the NCAA Championship, which included some great home games at Klöckner Stadium. How beneficial are the home crowds to the Cavaliers?
Gelnovatch: One thing is that we have given our fans a lot of home games this year! Right out of the gates with UAB and particularly St. John’s, there is a chance to see some exciting soccer. You’ll have the ACC Champions vs. the BIG EAST Champions, so that will be a great weekend. The four ACC home games that we have this year – Wake Forest, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Maryland – are the four teams that I would hand pick in terms of how the fans are going to enjoy it. I think with those teams coming into Klöckner and with the success that we had last year Klöckner will be a lot of fun.