By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Forget the out-of-town games, matches and meets involving Virginia’s wrestling, men’s soccer, volleyball, cross country and women’s basketball teams. Even the most ardent fan would struggle to catch every UVa sporting event on Grounds this weekend.
Tony Bennett’s second season as men’s basketball coach begins Friday night against William and Mary at John Paul Jones Arena. That’s also where Debbie Ryan’s 34th women’s basketball team will play its home opener Sunday afternoon.
In between those hoops games is the football team’s home finale, Saturday at 3:30 p.m. against Maryland at Scott Stadium. There’s also swimming and diving Friday and Saturday at the Aquatic & Fitness Center and rowing Sunday at the Rivanna Reservoir.
The stakes are highest this weekend, though, for UVa’s field hockey and women’s soccer teams. Each has reached the point where a loss would end its season.
In field hockey, the Wahoos are seeded No. 3 in the 16-team NCAA tournament. In women’s soccer, UVa is one of four No. 2 seeds in the 64-team NCAA tourney.
A season ago, Steve Swanson’s soccer team was sent to Penn State, where the ‘Hoos won twice to advance to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
This season the Cavaliers could play as many as four games at Klöckner Stadium in the NCAAs. But there will be a second home game only if Virginia (13-4-2) beats Lehigh (11-4-4) in the first round.
They meet Friday at 5 p.m. at Klöckner, with UNC Greensboro and South Carolina to follow at 7:30 p.m.
Friday night’s winners will meet at 2 p.m. Sunday at Klöckner.
The ‘Hoos are 9-1 at home this season, and it’s great, All-America midfielder Sinead Farrelly said, not to have “to worry about getting the bus out of our legs, or the plane. We don’t have to worry about that here. We don’t have to miss classes, and the crowd that we get here is awesome.”
Virginia is in the NCAA tourney for the 17th consecutive year. In each of the past three seasons, UVa has been eliminated in the third round. Seniors and juniors dominate this team, however, and Swanson likes its postseason prospects.
“I think we have a lot of ingredients that you would look for in any championship-caliber team,” Swanson said. “There’s experience at a lot of the positions, and we’ve got some great leaders. So you’ve got some leadership, you’ve got some experience, you’ve certainly got some talent, you’ve got some experience at the back, you’ve got some proven goal-scorers at this level, you’ve got a quality keeper at this level.
“It’s such an unpredictable game at times, but I think all of our team is very confident heading into this first game. And the reason is, because they’ve prepared. You know over the long haul you’ve got six seniors that have worked their tails off for four years that are highly motivated.”
Five of the top eight seeds in the tournament are from the ACC. The No. 1 seeds include Maryland and North Carolina, and UVa, Florida State and Boston College were awarded No. 2 seeds.
BC beat UVa 1-0 in the ACC tournament quarterfinals last week.
“This has been by far the toughest conference season I’ve ever experienced, be it in the Ivy, the Pac-10 or the ACC,” said Swanson, a former coach at Dartmouth and Stanford. “It’s been a marathon, really, to get through the conference season.”
Farrelly agreed. “We’ve played every type of team, every formation, so it’s only prepared us for who we’re going to face in the NCAAs.”
In field hockey, UVa was selected to host first- and second-round NCAA games for the second straight year. Coach Michele Madison knew that Maryland and UNC would be awarded regionals, but she didn’t expect a third ACC team to be named a host.
“I was very surprised,” Madison said of learning that the Cavaliers would play at home this weekend.
Virginia (16-3) entertains Michigan State (15-5) in a first-round game Saturday at 11:30 a.m. The ‘Hoos are 7-1 this season at the University Hall Turf Field.
“I woke up this morning and said, ‘I’m so happy we’re home!’ ” Madison said Friday, laughing. “We have our fans, we have our support people around us. We love our field. The kids are really psyched. The weather’s perfect. I think it’s a huge advantage for us.”
Madison spent 13 seasons as Michigan State’s coach before coming to UVa, where she’s in her fifth year.
She faced her former school in a second-round game last year at the U-Hall Turf Field. UVa beat Michigan State 3-2 in overtime to advance to the NCAA semifinals for the third time in school history.
If the Cavaliers prevail Saturday, their quarterfinal opponent Sunday at 2 p.m. will be Princeton or Wake Forest. The Tigers will take on the Demon Deacons around 2 p.m. Saturday, also at the U-Hall Turf Field.
Of the 15 other teams in the NCAA field, UVa has faced eight this season: Maryland, UNC, Wake Forest, Ohio State, Penn State, Syracuse, Princeton and Old Dominion.
“I think our schedule definitely got us ready,” Madison said.
The complete schedule of this weekend’s sporting events involving UVa teams can be found at VirginiaSports.com.