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Oct. 7, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — An extraordinarily powerful women’s soccer league grew even stronger this year when Notre Dame joined the Atlantic Coast Conference.

In the Top Drawer Soccer rankings released Monday morning, six of the top 15 teams are from the ACC, including UVa at No. 1 and Notre Dame at No. 6. (Florida State is No. 3, defending NCAA champion North Carolina No. 4, Wake Forest No. 10 and Virginia Tech No. 15).

Notre Dame has advanced to the NCAA championship game eight times, winning in 1995, 2004 and 2010.

“I don’t think [the league] can get much better, unless it adds some of the West Coast teams,” said Virginia’s All-America midfielder, junior Morgan Brian. “Right now the ACC is the hardest place to play.”

The addition of Notre Dame means his team must face another elite opponent in conference play each year, but UVa coach Steve Swanson isn’t complaining.

“No, I think it’s a great thing,” Swanson said Sunday at Klöckner Stadium. “I think it was great to get them in this year. They’re one of the best in the country, and it just solidifies our conference as the best in the country. We already knew that beforehand, but with the addition of [three new schools], including Notre Dame, I think it’s just a win-win all the way around. The games are more competitive, more challenging, and hopefully the development of our players is better.”

No UVa team has faced Notre Dame in an ACC contest. That will change Thursday at 7 p.m., when Swanson’s Cavaliers (12-0, 6-0) meet the Fighting Irish (9-2-1, 5-1-1) in a much-anticipated clash of Top 10 teams at Klöckner.

Virginia is the only unbeaten and untied team in Division I.

On Sept. 29, a crowd of 2,540 — by far the largest ever for a women’s soccer game at Klöckner — saw UVa edge Maryland 1-0. The Cavaliers are hoping to draw twice that many fans Thursday night.

“It’s great to see people out here,” senior midfielder Kate Norbo said. “It gives us a lot of momentum going into games, and it’s just really beneficial for growing the sport.”

The first 1,500 fans through the gates Thursday night will each receive a Virginia Soccer scarf, and every fan can get a free hot dog and soda at the concession stands.

“A lot of places you go, you have to make your own atmosphere, you have to make your own environment,” Swanson said. “Here, the environment’s there for us. It’s so motivating for us. They’re not only great fans, I feel like they’re real knowledgeable soccer fans here, too, and I think they are behind the team. I think the more people we can get behind the team, the better for us, so hopefully we can get an even bigger crowd out and break the record again.”

An appreciative crowd of 1,902 — among the 10 largest ever at Klöckner for women’s soccer — turned out Sunday on an unseasonably warm fall afternoon. The fans were rewarded with the Wahoos’ seventh shutout of the season, this one 3-0 over Clemson.

Swanson said he wasn’t worried that his players would look past the Tigers to the Irish.

“They’re really good about concentrating on the task at hand,” Swanson said. “We have a lot of respect for Clemson. We knew this would be a difficult game.

“I think Morgan getting that early goal was big for us. It settled us down. I thought we could have had a few more there before the first half was done, which was a little uncharacteristic, but I thought we bore down and got the differential there that we needed in the second half.”

Brian headed in a free kick from junior midfielder Danielle Colaprico in the third minute, and the `Hoos were never threatened thereafter. Colaprico and sophomore forward Makenzy Doniak each had a goal in the second half. The 90 minutes ended without a shot on goal by the Tigers (6-4-3, 3-3-1).

“Now everyone on the team can look forward to Notre Dame,” Brian said. “I think it’ll be a great time.”

Two of her closest friends — Cari Roccaro and Mandy Laddish — play for the Fighting Irish, and Brian expects to hear from them as the game draws nearer.

“For sure,” Brian said. “I talk to Cari every week, and we’ve been best friends since probably when I was 15, so it’ll be fun to play against her, because we [both] play in the midfield.”

The Cavaliers’ home games against Maryland and Clemson started at 2 p.m. under sunny skies. The atmosphere Thursday figures to be more intense.

“Night games at Klöckner are special,” Swanson said. “It’s such a unique venue, and it’s a complete soccer venue, which is nice. The fans are very close to the team, and that’s a big part of this environment here as well, and I think for all the sports that use Klöckner, it’s a special, special place. We recognize that, and we’re grateful. And hopefully we can get a good crowd out, because I think it’ll be a great advertisement for college soccer.”

Brian said: “Any soccer player loves to play under the lights. It’s just a different feel. A lot of times, like today, it’s really hot, and under the lights it’s cool. It’s probably the perfect setting to play, especially on this field.”

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