Sept. 30, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa women’s soccer team ascended to No. 1 in all four major polls about two weeks ago, then headed out of town for the first of three straight road games.
The top-ranked Cavaliers’ much-anticipated return to Klöckner Stadium came Sunday on a splendid fall afternoon. The Virginia band added to the festive atmosphere, and fans turned out in record numbers. They did not go home disappointed.
Sophomore forward Brittany Ratcliffe scored in the final seconds of the first half, and that was all UVa needed in a 1-0 victory over ACC rival Maryland.
The game, Virginia’s first at home since Sept. 12, drew a crowd of 2,540, by far the largest ever for a women’s soccer game at Klöckner.
“That’s awesome,” All-America midfielder Morgan Brian said Sunday when she heard the attendance figure.
The previous record was set on Oct. 18, 2007, when 2,011 fans saw UVa blank Virginia Tech 2-0.
“I thought it was a great crowd,” head coach Steve Swanson said Sunday after his team stretched its winning streak to 11 games.
“It’s great to see. I’ve always thought this is a great soccer community. They’re getting behind the team, which is really important, because I think the team’s fun to watch. We feed off the crowd. There’s no question about that. We could hear them today, and I think it was a fantastic atmosphere today.”
The only unbeaten and untied team in Division I women’s soccer, UVa (11-0, 5-0 ACC) had scored fewer than three goals in a game only once this season, in a 2-1 win at Boston College on Sept. 19. The Cavaliers outshot the 22nd-ranked Terrapins 21-9 on Sunday but had little to show for that dominance.
“We just weren’t as sharp as we normally have been in and around the attacking third,” Swanson said.
Senior defender Morgan Stith said: “I give Maryland a lot of credit. They played well today. But I think that we were able to figure out their game plan and finally get the ball wide and forward, and our forwards like Brittany did an awesome job of getting through them.”
In 2012, Ratcliffe had one assist and no goals to show for her 18 appearances. She has seven goals this season, all off the bench — a UVa single-season record for a substitute.
Her seventh was a gem. Ratcliffe dribbled through two defenders and then, with her left foot, chipped the ball over Maryland goalie Rachelle Beanlands with 17 seconds left in the first half.
“She made just a brilliant run,” Swanson said. “You want players that come off the bench to really give you a spark, and Brittany’s done that all year long. It’s been really neat to see her improvement over the year.”
A season ago, the Wahoos won the ACC title and advanced to the NCAA tournament’s third round, so they’re accustomed to success. This is only the second time in school history, however, that UVa has been ranked No. 1 in women’s soccer. The first was in 1990, for three weeks.
“It’s been awesome,” Stith said. “It’s such an honor, and we’re very, very grateful for that title, but we also know it’s still kind of early into the season. I think we’re excited and it’s a nice honor, but we definitely want to keep pushing.”
Asked if the No. 1 ranking puts more pressure on the Cavaliers, Brian said, “That’s probably not the best word to describe it. But I think when we do play games, every team is going to come out, and they know we’re ranked No. 1 and they want to beat us. So I think we’re going to get the best game of every single team we play. So we have to be sharp every single time we step on the field.”
Stith said: “I think having the name Virginia on our chest, it’s like we’re an automatic target. But we’re confident, and I think we’re going to be good going forward.”
Around Grounds, the team’s success has not gone unnoticed, and that’s been gratifying for Swanson’s players.
“There’s a lot more people tweeting and talking about women’s soccer,” Brian said. “We’re No. 1, we haven’t lost a game yet, so we want to keep that going, and hopefully that can make it even better around campus and get some more support when we play at home.”
Stith said she’s also seen a change “within the Virginia athletic community. I feel like all the teams have made a real big effort to come to our games and support us on Twitter and everything. It’s been such an awesome ride so far.”
Virginia’s three-game homestand continues Sunday at 2 p.m. against Clemson (6-2-3, 3-1-1). It concludes Oct. 10 against one of the ACC’s new teams, No. 3 Notre Dame (9-1, 5-0).
Swanson isn’t worried that an extended stay atop the polls will hurt his players’ preparation or focus.
“We set our goals, and we have not achieved one goal yet,” Swanson said. “It’s part of the process, but I think we’re really focused on our goals, which have to do with the long term. I think we’ve got enough experience that these players know that these games matter and they’re important and we need to focus on them. We can’t look too far ahead or get caught up in some of these other things that we have no control over.
“They’ve been very good. I think our [practices] have always been good, and in general our group has just brought a real good blue-collar mentality to the way we come out and train and the way we come out and play.”