By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — It’s not every day that both UVa soccer teams play NCAA tournament games at Klöckner Stadium. Sunday was one such day, however, and the fans who braved frigid conditions to cheer on the Cavaliers went home happy, if half-frozen.
The Virginia men took the field first, for a 1 p.m. game against St. John’s in the NCAA tourney’s round of 32. The thermostat showed 31 degrees when the game started, but at least the sun shined brightly on the field.
The Virginia women followed at 5 p.m. with a round-of-16 game against ACC rival Wake Forest. By then the sun had set, and players and fans had to endure an unseasonably cold night.
“It was freezing out there,” sophomore forward Makenzy Doniak said. “But I think once you get playing and get the ball moving, that goes away, and that’s in the back of your head. You don’t really think about it. You’re just out there playing.”
The cold didn’t faze either UVa team Sunday. The men, the No. 8 seed in their tournament, defeated St. John’s 2-0 to advance to the round of 16 for the first time since 2009, when the Wahoos went on to capture the NCAA title.
“It’s huge, just going forward, knowing what they did in 2009,” said junior midfielder Eric Bird, who had an assist and a goal against the Red Storm. “It’s big for the program, and I’m looking forward to it.”
The Cavaliers defeated St. John’s 2-0 at Klöckner during the regular season, too, but they were more dominant Sunday.
“This time of year, winning is the most important thing, regardless of how you do it,” Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. “But I would say today was a professional performance. Getting that first goal, how we managed the game, playing together, passes we put together, getting the second goal — everything about it was just very methodical and professional.”
This is Gelnovatch’s 18th season as head coach at his alma mater. His counterpart in the women’s program is Steve Swanson, who’s in his 14th season at Virginia. Swanson, too, was thrilled with his team’s play Sunday.
The UVa women, one of four No. 1 seeds in their tournament, scored twice in the first 182 seconds of the second half and blanked ACC rival Wake Forest 2-0 to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals for the second time in three seasons.
“I thought that was one of our best performances of the year, start to finish,” Swanson said.
“I think on paper maybe people don’t realize how difficult this match was. To face a team that’s been in our conference, that knows us, that knows our field, and is very organized … It’s not an easy game, that’s for sure, so I’m very pleased to be moving on, and full credit to the players. I thought they were magnificent tonight.”
The `Hoos have played at Klöckner throughout this NCAA women’s tournament, and they’ll have one more game there. At 7 p.m. Friday, Virginia (23-1) hosts Michigan (18-3-1), which edged Notre Dame 1-0 in Ann Arbor on Sunday night.
A victory would send UVa to the College Cup, NCAA soccer’s version of the Final Four, for only the second time in program history. (The first was in 1991.)
Swanson was asked Sunday night what he knows about the Wolverines.
“That they’re a big rival of the Spartans, and that’s all I need to know,” Swanson, a Michigan State alumnus, said with a laugh.
Then he turned serious again. “They’re a quality team, obviously. I think it’s going to be a big challenge again, but it is any time you get in this stage of the tournament,” Swanson said. “All these games are difficult.”
The UVa men will be at home next weekend, too. At 1 p.m. Sunday, Virginia (11-5-5) will host No. 9 seed Marquette (13-5-2) at Klöckner.
Marquette edged Akron 1-0 in overtime Sunday night in a second-round game.
As one of the top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament, Virginia earned a first-round bye. That meant the Cavaliers’ second-round meeting with St. John’s was their first game since Nov. 17, when they gave up an own goal in the final minutes and lost 1-0 to Maryland in the ACC tournament final.
“I think all week in practice we kind of had a bad taste in our mouth,” junior midfielder Ryan Zinkhan said.
Gelnovatch said: “I didn’t have to say anything to this team. Right from the start when we started training last week they had it about them, they wanted to get on with it, get another game and get going and go after it, and it showed today.”
The `Hoos, who start only one senior, defender Kevin McBride, scored once in each half Sunday. In the 35th minute, Bird, in the box, headed a cross from defender Patrick Foss to Zinkhan in the six-yard box. Zinkhan headed the ball past goalkeeper Rafael Diaz.
“Bird did the hard part laying it off to me, and I just had to finish it off,” Zinkhan said. “It was a great run by Bird and a great ball by Paddy.”
Gelnovatch replaced Foss with another left-footed defender, junior Scott Thomsen, in the second half. Thomsen had a major impact. In the 64th minute, Bird headed in a perfectly placed corner kick from Thomsen.
Getting a second goal “was huge,” Bird said. “That was another thing that we talked about at halftime. We didn’t want to let them back into this game, and so we wanted to come out flying again like we did in the first half and get a second one and put the game to rest.”
“Shaff’s a different kind of player than Norbs,” Swanson said. “Norbs does some great things for us, don’t get me wrong, but in that situation we thought maybe Shaff could give us a little bit more in terms of her ability to take people on 1-v-1, and her crossing.”
Less than a minute had elapsed in the second half when a Shaffer cross glanced off the post and bounced directly to Doniak, who was unguarded in front of the goal. At the 45:30 mark, Doniak tapped in her team-leading 19th goal of the season. Only former star Caroline Miller, who had 20 last year, has scored more in a season for the Cavaliers.
“It felt like I had five years before I was able to shoot it,” Doniak said.
The `Hoos outshot the Demon Deacons 6-0 in the first half, but “we just couldn’t put it away,” Doniak said. “So to be able to put away that first goal was great. Great cross from Shaff.”
Swanson said: “I knew the first goal was going to be key tonight. If [the Deacons] got it, obviously they’re going to drop back even more and they’re going to defend with even more discipline.”
Brian, an All-American who has made three appearances for the U.S. national team, now has seven career goals in the NCAA tournament, tying the school record set by Miller.
“When I looked up, I heard Morgan calling my name, so I just slotted the ball to her, and she finished it pretty perfectly,” Shaffer said.
The Cavaliers finished the regular season as the nation’s only unbeaten and untied team, and they continue to improve, Swanson believes. Wake coach Tony Da Luz would not disagree.
“This is his best team since he’s been here,” Da Luz said. “I think he’s got a really good chance to win a national championship.”
It’s likely that an ACC team will be crowned NCAA champion Dec. 8 in Cary, N.C. Six of the eight quarterfinalists are from ACC, and the conference will have at least two representatives at the College Cup.
If UVa beats Michigan and North Carolina defeats UCLA in the quarterfinals, the College Cup will be an all-ACC affair. In the other quarterfinals, Virginia Tech faces Duke and Boston College takes on Florida State.
“Knowing the teams,” Swanson said, the conference’s performance in this NCAA tourney doesn’t surprise him.
“We know, for instance, Duke’s a good team,” Swanson said. “We know BC’s a good team. But sometimes that doesn’t show when you’re playing in a conference and you’re losing games to quality teams … I think we can all take [pride] in the fact that the league has developed our teams to be able to play and do well in a tournament like this one.”