The Virginia women’s soccer team is off to a 4-0-1 start and is ranked No 6 nationally by Soccer America. The Cavaliers look for their fourth consecutive Virginia Nike Soccer Classic title when they host Texas on Friday and Boston University on Sunday. Virginiasports.com discussed the early part of the season and this weekend’s tournament with head coach Steve Swanson.
Question: Now that you are five games into the season, what have you seen from your team at this point of the season?
Swanson: I think there have been many positives that have stood out over the last month, since we started preseason training. There is strong work ethic amongst the group, which is important to any team that wants to go far in a season and accomplish their goals. That was something we saw in the spring that has carried over into the fall. I think there is a better appreciation for everyone’s role on the team, and that has something to do with having a lot of veterans, who have a lot of experience. We are certainly more verbal, which is something I thought hurt us at times last year. Our communication is much better and that is something that has been beneficial to our play this year. Our technical ability from one player to the next is very high. The entire team has a good level of skill and that allows us to do some things that we might not have been able to do in the past. There are some areas that I have seen some great growth over the past year or so, and that has been keys to our play so far this season.
Question: How much of a luxury is it for a coach to have 10 returning starters and 18 returning letterwinners on a team?
Swanson: That kind of experience certainly makes a big difference for any coach. I like to think that it has been a reason for our early season success. Those players have worked awfully hard during their time at Virginia and have put themselves in a position to be successful on the field. It doesn’t always happen, but you first want to put yourself in a position to be successful and our players have done that. They have worked hard on their weaknesses and have improved every year they have been in our program. With that, I hope comes some cohesiveness as a team as everyone knows each other’s strengths and how to play as a unit.
Question: Has there anything over the first few weeks of the season that has surprised you?
Swanson: I don’t think this is as much a surprise, but it has been nice to see the change in our second-year class. The evolution of them as players from first-years last season to where they are now has been great to see. I remember coming in last year and thinking how new and raw they were. It’s always tough to come in as a first-year. They have done a great job of improving and using the experience they had last year and putting it to good use. I think our first years that have come in this year, it has been a surprise, not to us as coaches, but maybe to our team overall, just how quickly they have fit into the group. Their injection into the group has been really smooth and they did a good job preparing themselves this summer to be ready to contribute right away.
Question: This season, in three home games you have three wins and outscored opponents 18-0. What has been key to the strong play at Klöckner Stadium?
Swanson: Our mentality from the onset has been key. Our players are bringing an energy and a mentality to each game. We have gotten out to strong starts of games and that has a lot to do with our mentality and attitude heading into each game. For the coaching staff, it has been great to see that consistency.
Question: How important are these non-conference games in order to get ready for the difficulty of ACC play?
Swanson: They are extremely important as you try to prepare your team for what is ahead. It is like a boat. You put it in the water first and test it out and see if there is anything you need to fix before you try to take it through some storms. We try to put our team in an environment where we can see where we are and what we need to work on. These games are important in terms of building your resume come postseason, but also to test your team and get an accurate gauge of where you are.
Question: This weekend you host a challenging tournament. Texas is undefeated and Boston University, despite their record, has played some good teams well this year. The fourth team, William & Mary, is also undefeated. What will fans see when they come to Klöckner this weekend?
Swanson: It will be a good tournament. William & Mary has had a strong year thus far. Texas traditionally has always been a strong, well-coached team. We have never played BU before, but I have a lot of respect for their program and they are another team that was picked to win their conference, which we have already played a few of those teams this season. We know what we are getting with these games. These are more opportunities to test our team and that is exactly what we are looking for at this time of the year. Hopefully we will get a good crowd out for both Friday and Sunday, because I think our fans will be treated to some great soccer.