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Nov. 19, 2012

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — Soccer season ended Sunday for the University of Virginia’s two teams.

For the UVa men, their second-round exit from the NCAA tournament was disappointing, but not shocking. The unseeded Cavaliers were on the road, playing 5,000 feet above sea level in Albuquerque, N.M., where they fell 3-1 to New Mexico, the No. 13 seed in the 48-team tourney.

Virginia, which started only one senior, All-ACC forward Will Bates, pulled to 1-1 in the 48th minute, but New Mexico went ahead to stay about 10 minutes later. The Lobos’ final goal came in the last 20 seconds.

For the UVa women, who won the ACC title and appeared fully capable of reaching the College Cup, the end came sooner than many expected. Virginia, one of the four No. 2 seeds in the 64-team NCAA tournament, lost 3-1 to Duke, a No. 3 seed, before a crowd of 1,204 at Klöckner Stadium.

“We’re obviously disappointed in the loss,” UVa coach Steve Swanson said, “but if it had to be to somebody, at least it’s an ACC team and it’s somebody we respect an awful lot. Full marks to them. I thought they played awfully hard and inspired today.

“I think the better team won today.”

For more than a month, the `Hoos (18-5-1) had been the better team in each of their matches. Coming into Sunday’s game, Virginia had won seven straight, outscoring opponents 29-5 during that span. Moreover, the Cavaliers had defeated the Blue Devils 1-0 during the regular season.

“I’m sure none of us would have ever thought that this day would go like this,” junior defender Morgan Stith said Sunday evening. “But I think that we’ve had an awesome season, and our seniors have done so well, and today just wasn’t our day, for whatever reason.”

Duke, the NCAA runner-up in 2011, seized momentum Sunday with a goal in the ninth minute, Kim DeCesare heading in a cross from Laura Weinberg. The Blue Devils (15-5-2) continued to dominate play, and in the 38th minute they scored again. This time, UVa’s inability to clear the ball led to a one-timer by Mollie Pathman.

Pathman, a junior forward, was one of the two Duke players (along with sophomore forward Kelly Cobb) on the U.S. team that in early September won the under-20 World Cup in Japan. Swanson coached that team, whose standouts included UVa midfielder Morgan Brian.

Down 1-0, the Cavaliers weren’t worried, given their prowess on offense. “I think the one that hurt us was the one towards the end of the half, the second goal,” Swanson said. “But even then, I told the team, `We have 45 minutes, and we’ve scored more than two goals [in a half many times].’ I didn’t think it was outside the realm for us to get right back in it, and we did.”

Duke coach Robbie Church expected nothing less after a half in which UVa took only three shots, none by senior forward Caroline Miller, the ACC’s offensive player of the year.

“We knew Virginia was going to come out at us in the second half,” Church said.

Ten minutes in, Miller finally got an opportunity, and she converted for the 20th time this season, scoring off a cross from sophomore midfielder Danielle Colaprico to make it 2-1.

“Soccer’s such a funny sport, and 2-0’s such a difficult score,” Church said. “You just feel like you’ve got the game, you feel like you’re in control, but then all of the sudden one goal, it’s 2-1, momentum shifts, and now they’re coming at us in waves.”

After Miller’s goal, Duke “dropped a lot of people back [on defense],” Church said. “We circled the wagons back there a little bit.”

Virginia outshot Duke 11-5 in the second half, but never could pull even. And in the 89th minute, a defensive breakdown led to another goal by DeCesare, which ended the Cavaliers’ dream of advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals for the second straight year. Instead, UVa fell in the Sweet Sixteen for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.

“It’s just tough,” junior defender Molly Menchel said. “Like Coach said, you gotta play the full game, and we didn’t come out strong, which hurt us in the first half. We came out strong in the second half, but you can’t just play 45 minutes of soccer.”

Swanson said: “The players didn’t quit. I thought they showed a lot of heart there in the second half. But unfortunately we dug ourselves a big hole there against a quality team. That’s a team that’s been to the final four the previous year, they’ve got everybody, almost, coming back, and it’s just hard to spot them that … I was proud of our team. We played well in the second half. I thought we really came back and made it a game, but you can’t get away with that at this level.”

Church called the Cavaliers “a great team, an absolutely fantastic team,” and Swanson feels the same way, Sunday’s outcome notwithstanding.

His players “deserve a lot of credit,” Swanson said. “I thought they played some unbelievable soccer this year, and to go on the run that we had this year leading up to this game was amazing.

“This team, I think, will go down in history as one of the better teams that Virginia soccer has ever produced.”

After winning the ACC title last month, Virginia hoped to receive a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That, in all likelihood, would have meant a third-round matchup with a team less formidable than Duke.

“I think this game easily could have been [an NCAA] final or semifinal, or something like that,” Swanson said Sunday. “But that’s the way it is in our tournament. You have to take these games whenever they come.

“It’s a third-round game. There’s 16 teams left in the tournament. They’re all good teams, and I think we have to take responsibility, which we do, for not winning today.

“But like I said, I’m really proud of the team. This team played some magical soccer through the year. They came together more and more. As hard as this loss is, just because we’ve been so playing so well and it kind of brings your season to a screeching halt, I think when the time goes by, to win the ACC championship the way we did, to produce the kind of soccer that we produced at the end of the year, I think will be very gratifying to everybody once we have time to reflect on it.”

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