The Virginia women’s soccer team hosts first and second round play of the 2010 NCAA Tournament this weekend at Klöckner Stadium. The Cavaliers, a No. 2 seed in the tournament, host Lehigh in the first round Friday at 5 p.m. UNC Greensboro and South Carolina meet in the other first round game on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and Friday’s winners meet in the second round on Sunday at 2 p.m. Virginiasports.com talked head coach Steve Swanson to preview the tournament.
Question: Last year, you were on the road for the NCAA Tournament. How much of an advantage is it to be able to host this season?
Swanson: We will see. You never know until afterwards if it is truly an advantage. The NCAA Tournament is like playing pool, where you have to always try to set up your next shot and give yourself the best chance to be successful. For us, what we have done in the regular season has allowed us to be a seed and be able to host. Hopefully that will make a difference for us. We get to play these games at Klöckner, where we are comfortable and where we get to play in front of our great fans. But we also know that we have some good teams coming here and we need to be ready. Just because you get to host, doesn’t guarantee you will be successful on the field. We have earned this situation with our play all season, but now we need to take advantage of it.
Question: For the first time since you have been at Virginia, you don’t have a first round or potential second round game against a team you already played earlier in the season. Is it a challenge seeing teams in the NCAA Tournament that you haven’t played in years, or in the case of Lehigh, ever?
Swanson: To an extent, that is a little bit of a challenge. In our experience in this tournament, we have found that you really need to concentrate on your own team. It is natural to look at the draw and focus on who you are playing, and you sometimes lose sight of the things right in front of you that have a big impact on whether or not you are successful. We have a lot of respect for the teams in the tournament. But we are trying to keep the focus on our team and what we need to do to be successful. We are certainly preparing for Lehigh right now and getting an understanding of the challenges they present for our team. At the same time, we are working hard as a team to continue to raise our level at this time of the year.
Question: Graham Hays from ESPN.com said that Charlottesville was the best first/second round site of the weekend. In addition to your team, you have a team in Lehigh who is making their first NCAA appearance and two other teams, UNC Greensboro and South Carolina, who have been ranked for most of the season. What will fans see this weekend when they come out to Klöckner?
Swanson: The great thing about the NCAA Tournament is that once you get to this point, these 64 teams are all good. There will always be compelling matchups even at the early stages of any tournament. We happen to have four talented teams coming to Charlottesville representing four different conferences. When you have the caliber of teams we have here this weekend coupled with the tournament format of winning to advance it makes for exciting games. One thing that happens every year in this tournament, whatever you expect is going to happen usually does not.
Question: After the disappointment of losing to Boston College in the ACC Tournament last week, has that made your team even hungrier for the NCAA Tournament?
Swanson: I am sure of that. We knew it was going to be a tough first round game against Boston College and it was everything we thought it would be. The result was difficult to accept because we felt that our effort and performance were good enough to get the win. We played some of our best soccer in that game and didn’t have anything to show for it. It was similar to our regular season loss to North Carolina, where we played well enough to win but could not get any points from the game. What we talked about after the BC game is that even though we played well enough to win we have to do a better job of creating more chances to score, defending better as a unit and communicating against that quality of a team. If we can do that then we really have gained something from the game. All the lessons we have learned throughout the season including the ACC tournament will help us as we head into the NCAA’s.
Question: The last four years you have lost in the round of 16 of the NCAA Tournament. What has been the key to that consistency and what do you need to do to take the next step?
Swanson: You can’t have that kind of consistency without talented players who have sound character and a strong work ethic. You also have to have great resources and at Virginia we have some of the best resources for our student-athletes including understanding professors, excellent assistant coaches, an outstanding trainer, exceptional doctors, a caring academic advisor, a knowledgeable strength and conditioning coach, selfless equipment staff, and the list goes on. To take that next step you have to have the talent, but you also must believe that you can win every time you step on the field. That is what we have been cultivating during the season and our hope is that the combination of this team, our belief and our effort will lead us to that next step!