By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The UVa women’s soccer team played five exhibition games this spring, posting a 4-0-1 record and outscoring its opponents 17-3. Even more impressive, the Cavaliers did so without their No. 1 goalkeeper, Morgan Stearns, who was sidelined with an injury.
More important to head coach Steve Swanson than spring results, he said, are “how well the team’s coming together and where we are in relation to maybe where we’ll be in the preseason relative to other years, and I think we’re further along. We worked really hard on the athletic side of the things and the technical side of things, and hopefully they’ll carry that over into the summer.”
The Wahoos had fewer questions to answer this spring than a year earlier. In January 2014, “Everybody was like, `We lost a lot of players, how are we going to do it?’ ” Swanson recalled recently.
That’s because last year Virginia had to replace nine players, including the heart of its defense, from a team that finished 24-1-1 in 2013 after losing in the College Cup semifinals. That didn’t deter the Wahoos last fall. They put together the best season in school history, advancing to the NCAA championship game before losing to ACC rival Florida State, and there may not be much, if any, drop-off in the fall.
“This year when you look at it, we’ve got a lot of pieces back,” Swanson said.
Virginia returns nine players who started at least 17 games apiece in 2014: Makenzy Doniak, Brittany Ratcliffe, Alexis Shaffer, Kaili Torres, Emily Sonnett, Kristen McNabb, Tina Iordanou, Megan Reid and Stearns, who’s recovering from offseason hip surgery but is expected to cleared by the start of practice in August.
The four departing seniors, it must be noted, will not be easily replaced. Two of them — All-America midfielders Morgan Brian and Danielle Colaprico — rank among “the best players in the history of [women’s] college soccer,” Swanson said, and Campbell Millar and Mary Morgan will be missed too.
Without Colaprico and Brian, a two-time national player of the year, it’s uncertain if the `Hoos can “get the same kind of partnerships and the linking that we got before,” Swanson said. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing, the creativity we had in the midfield.
“But I think we’ve got some good options coming in, and we’ve got some good players coming back. We’ve lost two of our biggest pieces, but I still think with the experience we gained from last year and the quality of the rising fourth- and fifth-year class, there’s a lot of firepower there, and there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic.”
Twelve recruits will join the team this summer, “the biggest class I’ve ever had,” said Swanson, who’s heading into his 15th season at UVa. “We’ll probably redshirt some of those players and look at more of a long-term plan for them.”
Of the newcomers, Swanson said, Betsy Brandon, Mia Hoen-Beck, Hana Kerner and Courtney Petersen are most likely to have an impact in the fall, and “Morgan Beans will give us another presence in the goalie spot, which is great for us.”
“The biggest challenge for us will be integrating that big class,” Swanson said.
“I think we feel good about the goalkeeping position with those four,” Swanson said, referring to Stearns, Ferrari, Kilgore and Beans.
He feels good about his returning players, too. Sonnett, a defender, was a third-team All-American last season, and she could be an option in the midfield this fall. Doniak, a forward who led the Cavaliers with 20 goals, was named a first-team All-American for the second consecutive year.
Between them, Brian and Colaprico combined for 16 goals and 33 assists last season. Among those who’ll be asked to replace some of that production is Shaffer, a midfielder who had seven goals and five assists in 2014. Shaffer, a rising junior, recently trained with the United States’ Under-23 team in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., as did Doniak and Sonnett.
“Shaff’s had a really good spring,” Swanson said. “She’s continued to get better in her time here, and I think she’s somebody that really has grown playing alongside players like Danny and Morgan and Campbell. I think she can be very creative, but she’s just become a better all-around player on both sides of the ball. She’s always shown an ability to score and create goals, which is what we’ll need from her.”
Swanson is an assistant coach on the U.S. team that will compete in June and July at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. His obligations with the national team took him away from Charlottesville several times this spring, but UVa assistants Ron Raab, Kerry Dziczkaniec and Jaime Frias did “an amazing job” while he was gone, Swanson said.
“I though overall it was a really good spring,” said Swanson, who missed only one of UVa’s exhibitions.
“I think our team has grown in a lot of ways. It was never going to be easy to get used to playing without Morgan and Danny and Campbell and Mary, but I think this spring’s been good, confidence-wise. We saw that we can be a very strong team even without the players who graduated.”