By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In NCAA soccer, two College Cups will be held this month: one, for the women, in Cary, N.C., and the other, for the men, in Chester, Pa.
The University of Virginia could be represented at both.
The top-seeded UVa women’s team clinched a berth in NCAA soccer’s version of the Final Four with a 2-1 victory over Michigan on Friday night at Klöckner Stadium.
The UVa men are a victory away from a College Cup trip, too. As the No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament, Virginia earned a first-round bye. The Cavaliers blanked St. John’s 2-0 in the second round last weekend and then whipped Marquette 3-1 in the round of 16 on Sunday afternoon.
“I feel like our confidence is at an all-time high, and I feel like whoever we play, if we play our game, we can beat `em,” sophomore forward Darius Madison said Sunday at Klöckner.
Virginia is the only Division I school to reach the NCAA quarterfinals in both men’s and women’s soccer this season.
The UVa men are headed to the Elite Eight for the first time since 2009, when they went on to capture the program’s sixth NCAA title. Virginia (12-5-5) will face unseeded Connecticut (12-2-8) in the quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Friday at Klöckner. UConn ousted No. 1 seed UCLA on penalty kicks in Los Angeles on Sunday night.
This is George Gelnovatch’s 18th season as head coach at his alma mater, and he’s guided the Wahoos to the NCAA tournament every year. His latest team is becoming one of his favorites.
“I don’t know if I’ve had a group this mentally tough,” Gelnovatch said Sunday. “And it’s not something we’ve always had. I think it’s something this team has developed, and this will to win-slash-mental toughness, which I think tie into each other, you saw that today.”
Against Marquette (13-6-2), the NCAA tourney’s No. 9 seed, UVa started five juniors, four sophomores, one freshman and one senior. Fifty-seven seconds into the game, Virginia lost one of those juniors, defender Matt Brown, to a red card.
Brown was sent off for tackling Marquette’s star forward, C. Nortey, from behind on a clear breakaway. The call, which Gelnovatch said was the correct one, meant Virginia had to continue with 10 players.
“At first you’re a little disappointed,” sophomore defender Scott Thomsen said, “because we’re not even five minutes into the game and we’re already down a man. But with this group we never count ourselves out. We just had Brownie’s back. We had to change our game plan a little bit, but we were able to take advantage of our chances.”
At the start of his postgame press conference, Gelnovatch had a good idea what question was coming. So he saved reporters the trouble of asking.
“The answer is no,” Gelnovatch said, smiling. “At any level, I’ve never coached down a man for 89 minutes. We’ve had a game plan for a week, a pretty detailed game plan, day in and day out, and in 57 seconds it went out the window. You just crumple up the piece of paper, and it’s gone. You gotta readjust on the fly.”
About seven minutes after Brown departed, Gelnovatch inserted sophomore defender Zach Carroll for junior midfielder Ryan Zinkhan. Carroll, a starter in 2012 and through the first four games this season, suffered a severe hamstring injury Sept. 13 against Wake Forest. Since getting hurt, he had appeared in only one game — for nine minutes off the bench Oct. 18 against Virginia Tech — before Sunday.
“When Coach called my number up, I was ready to go,” Carroll said.
Gelnovatch said: “He played all last year for us. He was a starting guy, a big part of our team, and he responded [Sunday]. He went in there and you wouldn’t have known that he was a guy you were bringing off the bench. He went in there and did what he was supposed to do.”
A man down, Virginia did not fall back into a defensive posture. The Cavaliers knew their attacking players were faster than Marquette’s defenders and continued to try to exploit that advantage.
The breakthrough came in the 24th minute. After a hand ball on the Golden Eagles, Thomsen curled in a free kick for a goal similar to the one he scored Aug. 30 against Louisville in UVa’s season-opener.
“I knew if I got enough pace on it, the goalie wouldn’t really have a chance,” Thomsen said, “so I just tried to get it on net, and luckily it went in.”
Thomsen started the Cavaliers’ first seven games this season. In the next 14, Gelnovatch started freshman Patrick Foss at left back. Thomsen came off the bench and made a significant second-half contribution against St. John’s, however, and Gelnovatch started him Sunday.
Losing his starting job wasn’t easy, Thomsen said, “but as a soccer player, whatever role the coach gives you, you just take it and run with it. I’ve just tried to keep myself focused and keep working in training, and when I’ve gotten the opportunity I’ve been able to do pretty well, and Pat’s been playing well, so it’s just one of those things where we keep pushing each other, and that’s how we get better as a team.”
To have fallen behind 1-0 while a man down would have been deflating, Gelnovatch said.
“Scotty’s goal was really, really big for us,” Gelnovatch said, “but I will say this: Even before we scored the goal, those minutes, we had some spells of possession. We didn’t look nervous or jittery. We got the foul as a result of some possession at the top of the box.”
Madison said: “When we got that red card, we all just got together and just took a deep breath, and we said, `Relax. We still got the game.’ It was still tied 0-0, and like Scott said, we never count ourselves out of any game, because we always come back.”
In the 47th minute, a sensational goal by Madison pushed Virginia’s lead to 2-0. From the left flank, junior midfielder Eric Bird sent a cross into the box, and Madison leaped and volleyed the ball past goalkeeper Charlie Lyon.
“I just followed it in the air, and I [made] good contact, and it was in the back of the net,” Madison said.
Marquette pulled to 2-1 in the 53rd minute on a goal by Nortey, but Virginia answered 20 seconds later after sophomore forward Marcus Salandy-Defour was taken down from behind in the box. Sophomore defender Todd Wharton made the penalty kick, and the `Hoos weren’t seriously threatened again.
“I can’t say enough about how crucial some of these goals were, particularly that one,” Gelnovatch said.
Redshirt junior Calle Brown, in his sixth straight start in goal for UVa, made three saves, all during a first-half flurry with the score 0-0.
Now comes one final home game for a team has lost only twice in its past 18 games. The Cavaliers were 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the ACC after falling Sept. 13 at Wake. The turnaround began Sept. 17 with a 3-0 win over George Mason, which went on to earn an invitation to the NCAAs.
“I’ve made the comment to the team and to the staff that these guys are in a really good place,” Gelnovatch said. “The team’s in a really good place, and that doesn’t happen by accident. That’s your body of work as players, as coaches, as your team, everything about it. That’s the body of work during the season, so that when you get to this point, here you are, you’re on track.”
The `Hoos will benefit from games “like today and performances like today, not just the win, but the manner in which we did it,” Gelnovatch said. “Winning is a confidence-booster, but the way that we did it today will go a long, long way in [building] even more confidence.”