By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa women’s soccer team made the most of its turn in the national spotlight Sunday, earning a historic win over North Carolina in a game shown live on ESPNU.
Coach Steve Swanson’s program will get more exposure tonight. In an ACC game that Comcast SportsNet is carrying regionally, seventh-ranked Virginia (2-1, 8-2-1) meets fourth-ranked Duke (3-0, 11-1) at 8 o’clock in Durham, N.C.
“As an advertisement for women’s soccer, I think it’s great to be out there, it’s great to be on television,” Swanson said.
It’s even better for his program when the Cavaliers win on TV, as they did in Chapel Hill. In the 38th game in the series, the Wahoos finally beat the Tar Heels. Junior forward Caroline Miller’s goal in the 105th minute gave the ‘Hoos a 1-0 double-overtime victory.
Freshman midfielder Morgan Brian teamed with Miller on the game’s decisive play. Brian, the nation’s top high school player as a 12th-grader, slipped a pass between two UNC players, and Miller found herself with only goalie Anna Sieloff to beat.
“I was like, ‘Where do I place this? I cannot miss this shot,’ ” Miller recalled Wednesday.
She didn’t. Her shot found its mark, crossing the line just inside the left post.
“Watching that ball go, I honestly thought it was going to hit the post,” Miller said. “I was like, ‘Caroline, come on.’ Thank God it went in.”
What struck Swanson about the final sequence was the way Miller, with a chance to take possession of the ball, let Brian have it.
“Soccer’s one of those sports where you’ve got to get to know your teammates,” Swanson said, and it’s difficult to quickly integrate freshmen with veterans in the fall.
“For Caroline to defer to Morgan there, knowing that Morgan’s a playmaker, and for her to make the run that she did and open herself up and have Morgan find her, I think that’s a good indication of how far we’ve come as a team,” Swanson said, “and that we’re understanding what people’s strengths are and what people’s capabilities are.”
A wild postgame celebration followed at Fetzer Field, and on the bus ride back to Charlottesville the players “were all in really great moods,” Miller said. “But by the time we got back, everyone was like, ‘All right, we won that game, but let’s just focus on Thursday. It was a great result, we’re really happy with it, but it’s time to move on.’ ”
To succeed in the ACC, such an attitude is necessary. The strength of the league borders on the unbelievable. In the latest Soccer America rankings, ACC teams occupy seven of the top 11 spots: Duke at No. 4, Boston College at No. 5, Wake Forest at No. 6, UVa at No. 7, UNC at No. 9, Florida State at No. 10 and Maryland at No. 11.
“In our conference, I think you have to compartmentalize things,” Swanson said. “It’s hard to compartmentalize a game like [the win over UNC], because it’s a hurdle that’s never happened in the program’s history. But at the same time, I think our players are smart enough to know that every game is important in the league, and every game is difficult, especially the ones on the road. So we have to get ready for this one.”
This is the third straight road game for the ‘Hoos, who don’t play at Klöckner Stadium again until Oct. 8, when FSU comes to town. Virginia visits Wake Forest on Sunday afternoon.
“We know have some tough competition,” Miller said, “and I think we’re just really proud of ourselves for playing so well together and keeping at it, and we just know that if keep doing what we’ve been doing, good results will come.”
Miller, who on Tuesday was named the ACC’s player of the week, leads UVa with 10 goals this season. No other Cavalier has more than four.
Coming off an injury-marred sophomore season, Miller has made herself a more complete player, to Swanson’s delight.
Ultimately, though, “her basic task is to put the ball in the back of the net,” Swanson said. “That’s it, and she’s very good at it. And the thing about Caroline Miller that we always knew is — and you just can’t teach this — that kid scores in big games.
“There’s a lot of players that are only going to score in games that maybe are not as competitive, but Caroline Miller can score against anybody, and I think that she’s showing that. We’ve always known that. It’s not something that’s been a secret to us.”
The Cavaliers went through a light practice Monday and then took Tuesday off. They trained Wednesday and then left for Durham after practice. As UVa’s coaches started planning for the Duke game, Swanson said, they made the players’ recovery and rest the No. 1 priority.
“It was very important to go into the UNC game rested,” Swanson said, “and I think it’s important to go into the Duke game rested.”