By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The NCAA women’s soccer tournament ended Dec. 4 with one team standing: Stanford.
Would UVa have been able to stop the mighty Cardinal (25-0-1) in Kennesaw, Ga.? Maybe not. But longtime coach Steve Swanson and his players know the Cavaliers were talented enough to advance to the College Cup. And that’s why Swanson’s pride in his team’s accomplishments is mixed with a dash of disappointment.
After losing in the NCAA tourney’s third round in each of the previous five seasons, UVa broke through in emphatic fashion this year, whipping Virginia Tech 4-0 at Klöckner Stadium. The Wahoos’ season ended five days later with a 3-0 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee.
At the College Cup, Stanford blanked FSU 3-0 in the semifinals, then edged Duke 1-0 in the championship game.
During the regular season, UVa beat FSU and played Duke to a scoreless tie. (Florida State beat Virginia in the ACC tournament.)
“You feel like you’re every bit as good as these teams that are in the [College Cup], so that’s a little disappointing,” Swanson said.
By any measure, though, this was a stellar season for the ‘Hoos (17-5-2), who advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2005.
“That was a significant psychological hurdle, it seemed like, to the team,” Swanson said, “although I think it’s much more difficult to be consistently good year in and year out than it is to have one good year and four off years.
“I think the team got that monkey off its back in some ways this year, but even if we hadn’t, I think casual fans and observers of the program saw some [fantastic] soccer here this year … We scored some amazing goals, had some great results and were much more consistent from start to finish.”
Highlights included Virginia’s 1-0 win over North Carolina in double overtime Sept. 25 in Chapel Hill. The victory was the Cavaliers’ first over the Tar Heels in the teams’ 38 meetings.
“It says a lot about [the strength of Carolina’s] program, for sure,” Swanson said, “but for us to come through and play the way we did in that particular game, on national television, gave our team some confidence, and I think that certainly helped us down the stretch.”
From a team that finished 15-5-2 in 2010, Virginia lost such standouts as All-America midfielder Sinead Farrelly and second-team All-ACC forward Meghan Lenczyk. Nonetheless, Swanson said, he believed the ‘Hoos could be better in 2011, and they were.
“But even more so than that,” he said, “I think the quality of the soccer played was something that really stood out this year. People can see that Virginia plays with skill and plays with some thought and is trying to play together. There’s certainly a strong element of the team in what we do.”
Virginia outscored opponents 59-19 this season. At the front end of the field was junior forward Caroline Miller, who had 15 goals and 4 assists for a team-high 34 points. At the back end was goalkeeper Chantel Jones, a sixth-year senior who leaves with 47 career shutouts, an NCAA record. In the middle was Morgan Brian (30 points), the ACC freshman of the year.
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America announced its 2011 awards Friday, and Brian was named to the All-America first team and Miller to the third team.
Other standouts for the ‘Hoos included sophomore forward Gloria Douglas (20 points), junior midfielder Julia Roberts (20 points), senior forward Lauren Alwine (17 points), sophomore defender Molly Menchel (14 points), junior forward Erica Hollenberg (12 points) and freshman defender Olivia Brannon.
Recruiting analysts had rated UVa’s first-year class highly, and Swanson expected Brian and Brannon to play immediately. But they weren’t the only members of the class to make significant contributions.
“I think the person that really came out and expressed herself, really made a statement, was Danielle Colaprico,” Swanson said. “We knew she had some things that are hard to teach. She has some instinctive things. She’s quick, she’s fast, she’s very good with the ball, she can strike the ball with two feet, and she can change direction really well. I think her impact and the way she fit into the team, especially when Kate [Norbo] went down, was a big factor for us.”
Colaprico finished the season with 3 goals and 3 assists. Norbo, a junior midfielder, started five games before tearing an ACL. She’ll be back in 2012, as will two players who started 20 games apiece in 2010 but missed this season because of injuries: junior defender Morgan Stith and junior defender/forward Emily Carrollo.
Having Norbo, Stith and Carrollo back will help offset the departures of four senior starters: Jones, Alwine and defenders Amanda Fancher and Maggie Kistner. So will the addition of another talented recruiting class.
A major storyline in 2012 will be the battle to succeed Jones in goal. Her backups this season were junior Carrie Wisman, sophomore Danielle DeLisle and redshirt freshman Churchill O’Connell. None will enter the new year with a decided edge over the other two, Swanson said.
“That’s really going to be an open situation there,” he said, “and hopefully we can give everybody some quality minutes this spring and see where they are.”
Virginia went 7-2-1 in ACC games this season, no small feat in a league that sent four teams to the NCAA quarterfinals and three to the College Cup.
“I think that’s one of the real benefits of being in a conference like ours,” said Swanson, whose record in 12 seasons at UVa is 170-66-33. “The caliber of the teams you’re playing day in and day out really pushes your team forward during the season.”
There are no guarantees, Swanson noted, but if his players work as hard this offseason as they did during the last one, Virginia has the talent to contend for a College Cup berth in 2012.
“I couldn’t be more excited about the team,” Swanson said. “I think they’re very hungry. I think that’s certainly one of the things we’re left with at the end of the year. We feel good about some of the things we’ve accomplished this year that haven’t been done in a little while — or in some cases have never been done before — but we’re still motivated to push through and take this next step.”