By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — How’s this for summer fun? Thirty hours on a bus: 15 on the drive up to Michigan and then, a week later, 15 more on the ride home.
“It’s not that bad,” Chantel Jones said, “because we get on the bus, watch a couple movies and then pass out. And when we wake up, we’re there. It’s not that great a sleep, but it’s better than being awake for 15 hours on a bus.”
Jones is the starting goalkeeper for the UVa women’s soccer team, whose traditions include a weeklong training camp each summer at a boarding school in Glen Arbor, Mich. The Cavaliers’ bus — a sleeper — pulls out Friday night. It’s scheduled to arrive at the Leelanau School, on the shores of Lake Michigan, on Saturday morning.
The Wahoos, who opened preseason practice Wednesday in Charlottesville, will resume their training Saturday afternoon in Glen Arbor. They’ll play defending NCAA champion Notre Dame in an exhibition there Aug. 12, then bus back to Charlottesville after the game.
For Jones, who’s competing as a graduate student this season, this will be her sixth trip to Glen Arbor. For the nation’s No. 1 recruit — midfielder Morgan Brian — and the team’s five other freshmen, it’s uncharted territory.
“All the girls say it’s a lot of fun,” Brian said. “You do three-a-days for three days, and then you do two-a-days, and then you finally get to play a game, which is what everyone looks forward to.”
Virginia will play a second exhibition Aug. 14, against George Mason at Klöckner Stadium. The ‘Hoos open the season Aug. 19 against West Virginia, also at Klöckner.
UVa coach Steve Swanson, a Michigan State graduate, estimates he’s taken his team to Glen Arbor eight of the past 10 summers.
“One year we went to Brazil, and another year we didn’t do it, and I regretted it,” Swanson said. “It’s just a good time to get out, get away and get everybody concentrating on soccer together. Sometimes when you’re in Charlottesville and people are living in their own places, they don’t connect as well as they could.”
“When you think about preseason,” she said, “if we stayed here, we’d practice, everyone would go to their individual apartments, and we probably wouldn’t see each other, because we’d be so exhausted. But in Michigan, we’ll be all together.
“Another nice part that I like a lot is that it’s not as hot or humid, so we can have harder training sessions than we probably would have had here. So we get more out of our training, we get more in the sense of being together, and we get to play Notre Dame at the end.”
Swanson noted that his team has “this very short window to train before our first game. We’re a little unlike a lot of other sports. Some of the spring sports have all fall, and then they have six weeks in the spring. We just have this two-week window before our first game.
“It’s early, so the challenge is: How quickly can your team come together? And by going away, it allows our team to mesh more than they would if they stayed here.”
The Cavaliers are coming off a season in which they finished 15-5-2 after losing in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 for the sixth consecutive year. Jones already was planning to return for a sixth year at UVa, but the season-ending loss to Ohio State reaffirmed her decision.
“I don’t want to leave this team when I have more to give, especially after last year,” said Jones, who redshirted in 2006 and played for the United States at the under-20 World Cup in 2008. “And I feel good. This is the fittest I’ve ever felt. So I really want to get this program a national championship.”
Swanson lost the two top scorers from his 2010 team — Sinead Farrelly and Meghan Lenczyk — and they won’t be easily replaced. Farrelly, a four-time member of the all-ACC first team, was a first-team All-American last year and in the spring received the IMP Award as UVa’s top female athlete for 2010-11.
In Brian, though, the Cavaliers have added a phenom who’s probably the most decorated recruit in program history. Brian has represented the United States at the U-14, U-15, U-17, U-18 and U-20 levels.
“Not only is she a terrific talent, but she’s a very humble person, and I think she’ll fit in really well with the team,” Swanson said. “She’s already done that. She’s the kind of person who won’t want anything other than to earn her respect.”
Of her many accolades, Brian said, “I just like to play soccer for fun. I don’t really think about any of that other stuff. ”
At the ESPY Awards last month, Brian was honored as the Gatorade National Female High School Athlete of the Year. Also in Los Angeles for the ESPYs was UVa men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia, one of the nominees for Best Coach/Manager.
“I was kidding Dom,” Swanson recalled with a smile this week. “I said, ‘My girl won the ESPY. What happened to you?’ ”
Brian, who’s from St. Simons Island, Ga., is the jewel of a heralded recruiting class.
“I loved this team in the spring,” Jones said Friday, “and now we have six new awesome first-years who are coming in, so I like us even more. After two days, I can already tell they’re going to make a really big impact.”
In addition to Jones, UVa’s returning players include Morgan Stith, Lauren Alwine, Amanda Fancher, Caroline Miller, Julia Roberts, Kate Norbo, Gloria Douglas, Molly Menchel, Amber Fry, Erica Hollenberg and Shasta Fisher.
Jones, who turned 23 last month, is “a key piece to this puzzle,” Swanson said. “Anytime you can return somebody of Chantel’s experience, especially in the position she plays, it’s extremely valuable, and not just because of her talent.
“She’s been there before. She’s been in a lot of big games. I think she’ll be able to give a calming voice and an experienced voice to some of our younger players.”
Many thought Virginia was talented enough in 2010 to advance to the NCAA semifinals and, perhaps, win its first national championship in this sport. That’s been the case in other seasons, too.
“Have there been disappointing and frustrating years, where we thought we’ve played awfully well and we’ve had a team that could win it?” Swanson said. “Yes, there have. But if you’re going to accept the glory that goes with winning it, you have to have the mentality to fight through adversity and fight through things that maybe don’t go your way.”
His expectations for this team?
“I think we’ve got some great personnel on the team, and I feel like we’ve got some players that are ready to step up in the absence of the seniors we lost last year,” Swanson said. “They showed what they can do this spring. We’ve got some talented first-years as well.”
Jones said: “I love this team that we have right now. I think we have so many competitive people that we might not have had in the past. There’s a lot of competition on the team, and there’s a lot of people who want to go hard all the time, and I think that’s going to make us very dangerous.”