June 14, 2013

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Mary Morgan is from Norfolk, so she has experienced major traffic jams on both sides of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel. That didn’t prepare her for the congestion the UVa women’s soccer team encountered on its bus ride from Farnham, England, to London last month.

“We were in like a 55-mile backup,” Morgan recalled, shaking her head.

Virginia was scheduled to play Chelsea at 7 o’clock that night. The team left its hotel in Farnham at 4:45 p.m. for a trip that was supposed to take 40 minutes.

“We gave ourselves an hour,” UVa coach Steve Swanson said. “Traffic was horrendous. We didn’t get there till 7:15, so we didn’t start the game till 8 o’clock.”

The Wahoos eventually started using London’s underground rail network, the Tube, with happier results. But the traffic jams didn’t spoil their adventure abroad. Neither did the food in England, or the chilly temperatures.

“It was an awesome trip,” said Morgan, a junior forward who starred at Maury High School. “It was amazing to go as a team to a different country, to travel, to be together.”

The `Hoos, who left the United States on May 20, spent 12 days in England, splitting their time between the London and Manchester areas. During their stay they practiced several times, played three games — all against professional teams — and were spectators at three others.

On the field, UVa defeated Doncaster 5-1 and Watford 2-0. The Cavaliers lost their first match in England, falling 2-1 to Chelsea, “but to be honest we should have won that game,” Swanson said.

“We hit the crossbar five times. But they’re a good team. They had one player who’s on the Swedish national team. They had two players that are on the English national team. So they had a good squad, and they played good soccer. So that was fair enough.”

From the stands, the Cavaliers watched the Champions League women’s final between Olympique Lyonnais and Wolfsburg at Chelsea Stadium in London; the FA Cup women’s final, Arsenal against Bristol Academy, at Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster; and the England-Ireland men’s friendly at Wembley Stadium in London.

“It was great to see the teams play and get a live view,” Swanson said. “You get a lot out of watching games on TV, but it’s not the same, especially from the atmosphere standpoint, but particularly from a tactical standpoint, watching both teams and their shape and how they move.”

The England-Ireland game — the first meeting between those nations in 18 years — drew more than 80,000 fans. It ended in a 1-1 draw.

“We were right in the middle of the Ireland section,” Morgan said, “and they were all chanting and getting into the game. They were much louder than the England fans, actually. They had all these different chants. I think we’d learned a lot of them by the end of the game, so it was pretty cool.”

Swanson said: “That was a great experience. All our players got their faces painted, and we were in with the Irish fans.”

Twenty-seven people made up the Cavaliers’ traveling party: 20 players, Swanson, assistant coaches Kerry Dziczkaniec, Ron Raab and Jaime Frias, athletic trainer Bill Parente, strength-and-conditioning coach Ed Nordenschild and equipment manager Chris Moore. (Nordenschild and Moore returned to Charlottesville early, for the NCAA baseball regional at Davenport Field.)

Several UVa players, including Morgan, had previously been to England, but for most it was their first visit. The five players who will join the program this summer were not eligible to go on the trip, but “one of the reasons why we went this year is because it’s a smaller incoming group,” Swanson said.

“You don’t want to go on a trip when you’ve got eight first-years [coming in] and you feel like a lot of them are going to impact your team.”

The Cavaliers are coming off a season in which they won the ACC title and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s third round before losing to conference rival Duke.

“I think we still have that bad taste in our mouth [from the NCAAs],” Morgan said. “I think we thought about that all spring. Obviously we want to make a run this year in the tournament, but first we have to get through the season and take it one game at a time. But yeah, that’s definitely in the back of our minds, that we don’t want this season to end the way last season ended.”

From a team that earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney and finished 18-5-1, Virginia has back nine players who started at least 13 games each: Morgan Brian, Makenzy Doniak, Danielle Colaprico, Kate Norbo, Molly Menchel, Morgan Stith, Emily Sonnett, Shasta Fisher and Danielle DeLisle.

Brian, a junior midfielder, recently was called up to the U.S. national team.

UVa won all five of its exhibitions this spring, defeating Florida 2-0, Duke 2-1, the Washington Spirit (of the professional National Women’s Soccer League) 6-3, Penn State 5-1 and Georgetown 2-0.

“It’s a really good group,” Swanson said. “I’m excited about it.”

The `Hoos practiced 10 times in May to prepare for the trip. That training, combined with the games in England, “allowed us to solidify some more things,” Swanson said.

“So I know we’re going to be further ahead than we normally would have been without that trip, and I think we’ll have a better sense of our team ahead of preseason. We can hit the ground literally sprinting” when practice begins Aug. 7.

“In so many ways it helped us,” Morgan said of the tour. “Just being together every single day was team-bonding at its best. And then in a soccer sense, we faced a lot of challenges, whether it was traveling, playing teams that were professional, physical. We learned a lot of lessons within playing those games, and then watching professional games, we learned how different teams play.”

Virginia’s opponents in England were rugged teams that “don’t give you a lot of time on the ball,” Swanson said. “For us, that’s exactly the kind of style we need some work on. I think from that standpoint, from a coaching standpoint, we played on some not-great fields in some rain, and not-great weather, and against teams that are really hard. So I think that was really good for us.”

Ah, the weather.

“It was cold,” Morgan said. “We wore our winter jackets every day. I think there was one day we had sun and it was warm and we were all in shorts, but other than that we were in our jackets.”

England is not renowned for its cuisine, and the food, for the most part, met the visitors’ expectations.

“It was rough,” Morgan said, smiling. “It was definitely different. The first hotel we stayed at, I think we all enjoyed our peanut butter and jellies for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And we had a lot of Nutella.”

Among the highlights of the trip was a visit of Old Trafford, home of Manchester United.

“We made the point as a staff that you could really see [Manchester United’s] pride in their club and the history and culture that’s there, how first-class it is,” Swanson said. “And I think that was one thing we made a point of emphasis with our players: how important our culture is and how important the history of our program is. And we have to really work at continuing to build onto that, add onto that, but keep the values that have always made this program great.”

The team also visited Windsor Castle and took a private tour of the Tower of London. Farrell Page, who played for Swanson at Dartmouth, is married to UVa alumnus Shawn Harwood, who works at the U.S. Embassy in London. The husband of former UVa player Leanne Fallin also works at the embassy, and those connections helped the ‘Hoos get an inside look at the Tower.

“That was fantastic,” Swanson said.

The Cavaliers returned from England a closer team. “Obviously we spend a lot of time together during the season and the school year, but when you’re on a trip with a team you’re literally with them from morning to night,” Morgan said.

There was already “something special about the bonds between [the players],” Swanson said, “but I do think that the trip helped us even more in that regard. We did a lot together. We were in very tight quarters for the whole time.”

Virginia opens the season Aug. 23 against VCU at Klöckner Stadium.

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