By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On paper, there’s little difference between the No. 5 seed that UVa carried into last year’s ACC men’s soccer tournament and the No. 6 seed that George Gelnovatch’s team earned this year.
In 2009, however, Virginia went 3-1-1 in its final five conference regular-season games. It was no shock, then, when the Wahoos went on to win the ACC tourney in Cary, N.C., or when they won the NCAA title on the same field a month later.
A year later, the ‘Hoos have no such momentum as they head into their ACC tournament opener. In the Cavaliers’ final five ACC regular-season games, they went 1-3-1.
So his team’s focus can’t be on collecting more trophies, Gelnovatch said. The Cavaliers need to direct all their attention instead to No. 3 seed Wake Forest, their quarterfinal foe Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. in Cary.
“Going into the Wake Forest game, our approach is we can’t even think about an ACC championship right now,” Gelnovatch said. “Can’t even think about the NCAA tournament. We’re at a point now where we are just getting ready to do what we have to do to win this game.
“Last year, it was a little different. Look, you never want to go into any game thinking too far ahead. But I think even going into the [ACC] tournament last year you could think ahead about managing minutes so that guys don’t get hurt [or worn out]. This year we’re going in guns blazing, going for the win.”
The Cavaliers’ overall record (10-4-3) is solid, but they went 2-4-2 in the rugged ACC. Given the talent lost from the NCAA title team, including such players as Tony Tchani, Neil Barlow, Jonathan Villanueva, Ross LaBauex and Shawn Barry, such struggles were not unexpected.
“I think the biggest thing for us is the loss of athleticism,” Gelnovatch said. “We had holes to fill. To be honest with you, some of the results that we’re getting now or lately are kind of how I felt our season would be.
“The first month of September, early October, I felt like we were doing a little bit better than I thought we would be doing, and now it’s a little bit more like I thought we would be doing. And that’s not in a negative way, to be honest with you. It’s realistic. I said it at the beginning of the year: It’s a little bit of a rebuilding year. And that’s what it is.”
Gelnovatch won’t have to worry about rebuilding next year. Of the players who have started at least four games for UVa this season, only goalie Diego Restrepo is a senior, and “and we have a very, very gifted and talented class coming in,” Gelnovatch said.
The class consists of 12 players, and “I could literally put together a starting 11 in all positions with that group that’s coming in next year,” Gelnovatch said.
The recruits’ arrival on Grounds is still months away, of course, and Virginia has soccer left to play this year. Gelnovatch believes his current team can peak in postseason, much like the ‘Hoos did in 2009.
“We are not the same team in a lot of ways, but this team, in terms of the leadership, in terms of the character of our guys, it’s as good a group as I’ve had,” Gelnovatch said. “Down the stretch, those things are really important, and those things are in place. And I think there’s enough guys that have been through the ACC tournament, know what it means, know what’s at stake. There’s no panic.”
The UVa-Wake winner will meet No. 2 seed Maryland or No. 7 seed Clemson in the semifinals Friday at 5:30 p.m.