Nov. 23, 2014

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In the first minute, the UVa men’s soccer team lost its leading scorer and captain, Eric Bird, to a groin injury. The senior midfielder would not return.

In the 20th minute, Virginia, the NCAA tournament’s No. 16 seed, surrendered a goal to UNC Wilmington, a formidable team that defeated Duke and North Carolina, among others, during the regular season.

The Cavaliers’ start was less than auspicious in this second-round game, but all ended well for the home team Sunday afternoon. Virginia pulled even with UNCW in the 44th minute and then added two second-half goals in a 3-1 victory at Klöckner Stadium.

“This time of year, the stakes go up,” head coach George Gelnovatch said. “Winning is much harder this time of year, especially when you do it coming from behind. When you go behind in the playoffs, it’s just a little bit tougher. The guys did a great job.”

For the Wahoos (11-6-2), who had a first-round bye, the game was their first since Nov. 9, when they lost 3-0 to defending NCAA champion Notre Dame in an ACC quarterfinal at South Bend, Ind.

That game, the `Hoos believe, was closer than the score indicated.

“We didn’t play our best, but [the Fighting Irish] just took their chances well,” junior defender Scott Thomsen said Sunday afternoon. “We had a bunch of chances also, we just couldn’t finish on the day.”

The Cavaliers want another shot at Notre Dame, and they’ll get one next weekend in the NCAA tournament’s round of 16.

During the regular season, the `Hoos and the Fighting Irish played to a 1-1 tie at Klöckner. They’ll meet for a third time next Sunday in South Bend at a time to be determined.

Notre Dame, the tourney’s No. 1 seed, is 12-4-4 after edging Ohio State 2-1 on Sunday night.

Had the `Hoos gone into the break down 1-0 on Sunday, the Seahawks might be the team headed to Notre Dame. We’ll never know, because with little more than a minute left in the first half Thomsen faked out a UNCW defender along the goal line and then passed to reserve forward Sam Hayward in the middle of the box.

Hayward, a sophomore who played for the University of Pennsylvania last season, banged the ball past goalie Sean Melvin to make it 1-1.

“I made it a little more difficult for him than I probably should have,” Thomsen said, “but Sam did absolutely great with it and was able to just get it on frame.”

Hayward’s third goal of the season — his first since Sept. 15 — revived the Cavaliers, who are in the NCAA tourney for the 34th consecutive season. It deflated the Seahawks (13-5-2), who were unbeaten in road games before Sunday.

“Such a shame we gave a goal away with a minute left in the half,” UNCW coach Aidan Heaney said. “It gave them a real lift going into halftime.”

The goal was only the Cavaliers’ fourth in the first half this season.

“Getting an equalizer right before half was very, very important,” Gelnovatch said. “Anytime you concede or score a goal right before the half, that’s a big one. That’s probably the best time to score, and worst time to get scored on — right before the half like that.”

In the 62nd minute, freshman midfielder Jake Rozhansky scored to put the Cavaliers ahead for good. Credited with assists were Thomsen and sophomore midfielder Nicko Corriveau. Thomsen began the sequence with a free kick into the box that bounced off Corriveau and went to Rozhansky, who did the rest.

Rozhansky has played brilliantly this season and made the ACC’s all-freshman team. The goal, however, was his first as a Cavalier, and it was long overdue, he would tell you.

“All the guys have been on me,” Rozhansky said, smiling. “I’ve been on myself. I’ve had so many chances to score. And actually I credit a lot of this goal to [operations assistant] Oliver Gage. Right before the game he sent me a video of all my chances from the whole season. I asked him to. I watched all my chances from every game this season, and [then today] I scored.

“There were probably eight good chances in that video. It means a lot to me to finally score, and it feels so good. It’s unbelievable.”

In the 74th minute — about four minutes after he’d entered the game — senior forward Kyle McCord effectively sealed the victory for UVa by heading in a long cross from Brown.

This marked only the fifth multi-goal game of the season for Virginia, which advanced to the College Cup in 2013.

“We’ve been waiting to score goals,” Rozhansky said. “We’ve been more of a defensive team this year. Although we wanted to do well in the ACC tournament, [the quarterfinal loss meant] we had two weeks to prepare for this game. We changed it up a little bit, the way we play, our formation. I’m playing a little deeper, [junior midfielder Todd Wharton is] playing a little higher, and we scored three goals today, so it seems to work.

“Like Coach said before the game, we need some wind in our sails, and hopefully this’ll help us score more goals in our next game.”

David Sizemore scored UNCW’s goal, off a pass from Jamie Dell. The Seahawks’ leading scorer this season with 10 goals and three assists, Dell left the game with an injury about 27 minutes in and did not return.

“It had a big effect,” Heaney said.

The Cavaliers, meanwhile, were without Bird, their lone representative on the All-ACC first team, for the final 89 minutes. Redshirt freshman Pablo Aguilar replaced Bird and played 64 minutes Sunday.

“It was just another obstacle for us,” Gelnovatch said of Bird’s injury. “I thought Pablo did a good job today. I really did.”

Bird leads the `Hoos with five goals. Losing No. 11, especially so early, took ” a lot out of us,” Thomsen said, “but today showed what our team’s all about, just the next guy stepping up, with Pablo coming in and doing phenomenal, Sam and Kyle coming in and getting big goals for us, making an impact up there, and every other guy working hard for each other. It was just a good team win for us.”

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