By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The season’s not even a month old, and the UVa men’s soccer team already has dealt with a rash of injuries, illnesses and suspensions.
“It’s just one thing after another,” Cavaliers coach George Gelnovatch said.
“It’s been a different kind of season so far,” junior forward Will Bates said with considerable understatement.
Consider the Wahoos’ most recent game. Playing without four starters, Virginia stunned Radford with four goals in the first 20 minutes — all by Bates — to take a seemingly commanding lead Tuesday night at Klöckner Stadium. But the Highlanders rallied for three consecutive goals and then, in the 85th minute, nearly pulled even.
The ‘Hoos felt fortunate to escape with a 4-3 victory, especially in light of their previous two games at Klöckner. In the first, Liberty blanked UVa 2-0 on Sept. 13, the Flames’ first win over the ‘Hoos in 20 attempts. Three nights later, Charlotte converted a penalty kick with 25 seconds left in regulation and then scored in the first minute of overtime to shock UVa 2-1.
“It’s been an interesting start,” said Bates, the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, “but I think with little things like this that try to bring you down, when you overcome them, it makes your team stronger in the end.”
Virginia’s strength will be tested again Friday night. A 7 o’clock, UVa (1-0, 5-3) takes on fourth-ranked North Carolina (1-1, 6-1) in an ACC game at Klöckner.
The Cavaliers opened ACC play Sept. 9 with a 1-0 victory at Duke. UNC figures to be a more formidable opponent.
“We’re certainly the underdog,” Gelnovatch said. “It would be a very, very good win for us. I’d feel better if I had Ownby and Jumper in my lineup.”
When healthy, senior Brian Ownby is one of the college game’s most dangerous forwards, but injuries have marred his career at UVa. Ownby missed the Radford game with a hamstring injury, and his status for Friday night is uncertain.
Another senior, defender Hunter Jumper, has to sit out the next two games. Jumper, a four-year starter, was sent off in the Aug. 26 opener against West Virginia after earning his second yellow card and so, under NCAA rules, was suspended for UVa’s next game, a 7-1 rout of Richmond.
Against Charlotte, Jumper was assessed a red card for a hard foul in the box and sent off in the 90th minute. The 49ers capitalized on his indiscipline by converting the subsequent penalty kick to force overtime.
Jumper’s red card was for fighting — the referee ruled that Jumper had thrown a punch — and so carried an automatic two-game suspension. Because Jumper had been sent off against WVU, too, another game was added to his suspension.
Another senior defender, Mike Volk, also was assessed a red card against Charlotte and had to sit out the Radford game. But Volk is available for the UNC game and is expected to start alongside classmate Greg Monaco.
That will be a welcome sight for the ‘Hoos. Volk and Monaco were starting defenders on the UVa team that won the NCAA title in 2009, but they’ve played together in only one game this season, against Charlotte.
Volk had groin surgery two weeks before the season started. He returned for Virginia’s second game, but by then Monaco was sidelined. He’d broken his toe in the opener, an injury that caused Monaco to miss five games.
Even now, Gelnovatch said, Monaco is “not fully fit to play 90 minutes, because he’s been out for three weeks.” And so the UVa coaching staff has had to be creative. Ryan Zinkhan, who’s listed on the roster as a forward, started on defense against Radford, and he’ll continue in that role Friday night.
Zinkhan is one of the jewels of a first-year class that’s already playing a prominent role for the ‘Hoos. Five freshmen are likely to start against UNC: Zinkhan, goalie Spencer LaCivita, forward Calvin Rezende and midfielders Eric Bird and Chris Somerville, who was ill Tuesday night and played only 16 minutes against Radford. Another newcomer, Grant Silvester, figures to see time on defense Friday night.
“There’s nobody else in our conference playing five or six freshmen consistently,” Gelnovatch said. “I love this first-year class. I’m probably burdening them too much by [filling] half of our lineup with these guys and asking a lot of them in tough situations. But if we can get through it like we did [against Radford], like we did at Duke, then I think those experiences for all of them, Spencer included, are going to pay off down the stretch and for sure in the future.”
Gelnovatch started five freshmen against Radford, including Bird and Rezende, who had an assist each. Sophomore midfielder Brian Span had the Cavaliers’ other assist that night.
“Great vision from those guys,” Bates said.
With 21 points, on nine goals and three assists, Bates is far and away Virginia’s top scorer this season. No. 2 is Span, who has two goals and three assists.
Bates’ four goals Tuesday were one shy of the UVa record set by Bill Hodill in 1942.
“He carried us [against Radford],” Gelnovatch said. “His finishes were great, his run, his touch. He did really, really well for us.”