By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Little more than a week into what would become the greatest season in the history of UVa women’s soccer, Kaili Torres went from player to spectator.
A broken bone in her left foot required season-ending surgery last September, and Torres could only cheer as her teammates rolled unbeaten through the regular season and then, in the NCAA tournament, advanced to the College Cup for the first time since 1991.
“It was definitely tough,” Torres recalled Friday night at Klöckner Stadium. “I’m someone who just loves to play. I love to be out there. I love to compete. It definitely took a lot of strength just to sit there and watch. But I was so grateful, because they’re so much fun to watch and support, and I still felt all in and all part of the team. It was great. But it made me hungry. It made me want it and not take it for granted.”
Healthy again, the 5-7 Torres can play midfielder or forward and makes an explosive team that much more dangerous. After contributing a goal and an assist in each of Virginia’s preseason games — wins over Michigan State and VCU — she struck again in the season-opener.
Torres scored a goal — her first since 2012 in an official game — to help third-ranked UVa defeat Marshall 3-0 before a crowd of 1,757 at Klöckner.
“Not only is she skillful, but she makes good decisions on the field, and she can do a lot of things,” Virginia coach Steve Swanson said. “She can hold up play if we need to. She can go at people one-on-one if we need to. She can combine if we need to, so she’s got a lot of elements to her game that make her very effective against any kind of defense. It’s nice to have her back, for sure.”
The opener was no ordinary game for her, Torres admitted afterward, and not only because she has switched jersey numbers this season, from 17 to 7.
“It felt great just to be back out here on Klöckner and with my teammates,” she said. “I love them to death, and I have so much fun playing with them. I don’t take it for granted, and I just enjoy every moment of it.”
As a sophomore in 2012, Torres appeared in all 24 games and totaled five goals and five assists, and she was expected to play a prominent role last season. Her injury changed that.
“But true to her character,” Swanson said, “I don’t think I’d ever seen somebody handle that as maturely as she did. The very first thing she did was appeal to the team. All her stuff from the moment she got injured was all about the team. There’s a lot of people that would have felt sorry for themselves and would have maybe brought other people down. She’s just not that way, and I think her [attitude] really helped our team at that point.”
Until postseason, Torres did not travel with her teammates to road games last fall.
“So I would just try to FaceTime them or send things with them on the bus, and I’d watch and scream from my apartment at the TV,” said Torres, who’s from Fleming Island, Fla.
“Things happen, and you can either accept them or you can make them define you. I had to accept and make the best of my situation and be the best teammate I could be that year and let it make me better, not define me or hinder me.”
Because of her injury, Torres received a hardship waiver that gave her another year of eligibility, so she’s listed as a redshirt junior this season.
“This is a great place to be,” she said, smiling, “so I’m not in any rush to get out of here.”
Klöckner has become a great place for the Cavaliers to play. They were undefeated there last season, and they extended their home winning streak Friday night. Still, Swanson was less than satisfied with his team’s opening-night performance.
From the start, the Wahoos put the Thundering Herd under siege, but the outcome wasn’t nearly as one-sided as it could have been. Marshall’s only shot came in the first half.
“I think we can be a lot better,” Swanson said. “I think we gotta be much sharper. We had 26 shots, and not many on goal. We got in good positions, but we just didn’t really have a lot of quality chances, and I think a lot of that’s on us.
“I credit Marshall. They were organized. I just didn’t think we were as sharp as we needed to be tonight, especially from the offensive perspective.”
Not surprisingly, junior forward Makenzy Doniak, a first-team All-American last year, supplied one of the highlights.
Doniak, who rejoined the `Hoos last week after playing for the United States in the FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup in Canada, entered the game midway through the first half Friday night. In the 41st minute, she put the Cavaliers ahead for good, surprising Marshall goalkeeper Lizzie Kish with a left-footed strike from the top of the 18-yard box.
“It was good to get her some minutes tonight,” Swanson said of Doniak, who last year tied UVa’s single-season record with 20 goals. “We didn’t want to overdo it with her.
“Certainly that was a big goal. I think we needed that goal before halftime. I think to go in 0-0 [is a] different mindset.”
UVa’s other returning first-team All-American, senior midfielder Morgan Brian, assisted on Doniak’s goal and then on Torres’, which made it 2-0 in the 57th minute. Sophomore midfielder Alexis Shaffer’s unassisted goal in the 60th minute closed out the scoring.
The Cavaliers have ample time to try to fix the problems that surfaced in the opener. Virginia doesn’t play again until next Friday night, when Richmond visits Klöckner for a 5:30 p.m. game. (The UVa men will follow at approximately 8 p.m. against ODU.)
In 2013, when the `Hoos finished 24-1-1, they were often breathtakingly efficient on offense. That crispness was rarely evident Friday.
“I just didn’t think our decisions in terms of when to turn, maybe when to play a final pass, when to get a ball wide, when to combine, things like that, were as good and consistent as we needed to be at this stage,” Swanson said.
“But it’s early, and we understand that. We’re still working through some different combinations on the field and different roles and things like that. We’re not pushing the panic button or anything like that.”