By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
LOS ANGELES — Some 2,500 miles from Charlottesville, on a crisp summer night, members of the University of Virginia women’s soccer team celebrated a hard-earned victory at UCLA’s Drake Stadium.
“Hard place to play to get a result,” Virginia head coach Steve Swanson said Friday after his team’s 2-1 win over the then-No. 8 Bruins.
Two days later, top-ranked UVa played in nearby Malibu, in sight of the Pacific Ocean, at Pepperdine’s Tari Frahm Rokus Field. That game ended in a 2-2 between the Cavaliers and the Waves, ranked No. 14 in the latest NSCAA poll.
By Monday morning, after flying through the night, the Wahoos (4-0-1) were back in Charlottesville, ready to return to class. Their trip to the West Coast might have been exhausting, but the ‘Hoos were thankful for the experience.
“If you were to put the perfect trip together for us at this time of the year, that would be it,” Swanson said Monday. “We traveled across the country and played two top-15 teams in three days. I think we certainly have a better appreciation for our team now and also what we need to work on, what we need to get better on heading into the middle part of our season and with [ACC play] coming up.”
Virginia opens a five-game homestand at 7 p.m. Friday against Harvard at Klöckner Stadium. UVa’s ACC opener is Sept. 20 against Syracuse at Klöckner.
“Coming back home, we have some really tough games coming up,” Swanson said, “but our schedule opens up a little bit, and it gives us a chance to get back on the training field for some quality training sessions, which is another thing I think we need going forward.”
The Cavaliers took a similar trip early in the 2012 season, when they traveled to Austin, Texas, for weekend games against Texas and SMU. This one not only included two games against strong opponents, but it returned the four Californians on the UVa roster — senior Makenzy Doniak (Chino Hills), sophomores Megan Reid (Orinda) and Olivia Hazelrigg (Rolling Hills), and freshman Brianna Westrup (Corona del Mar) ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬” to their home state.
“This is really exciting, especially for Mak and the guys who live out on the West Coast,” junior Meghan Cox said Friday night. “They were psyched for this trip. And we’re psyched to put on a good show for their families, because they don’t get to come to the East Coast very much.”
In 2013, UCLA won the NCAA title after eliminating Virginia in the College Cup semifinals. In 2014, the Cavaliers exacted a measure of revenge, knocking off the Bruins in the NCAA quarterfinals.
In their latest encounter, UCLA led 1-0 at halftime after converting a penalty kick. But Virginia pulled even in the 51st minute on a penalty kick by junior Alexis Shaffer and then went ahead in the 58th minute, when Cox, who began here college career at JMU, headed in a cross from Reid.
Not until Friday night had UVa, last year’s NCAA runner-up, trailed this season, and it “was a great challenge for us to come back from that,” Cox said. “I think we did well to stay composed and not panic. We played our soccer and we got a great result out of it.”
Swanson said: “I didn’t see any panic in our players’ eyes ¦ We started very well in the second half, and I thought that made a difference. And once we got the first one, I think it gave us some confidence. I think we finished the game off real well.”
Doniak, a first-team All-American in 2014, had missed Virginia’s previous game, a 6-1 win over Delaware, with a hamstring injury, and she played only the second half against UCLA.
She didn’t have the impact she might wanted, but Doniak was beaming afterward anyway.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to play [near] my hometown,” she said. “My family’s here, and I’m excited.”
On Saturday, the Doniaks hosted the team at the family’s home in Chino Hills, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. The next day, against Pepperdine, UVa went up 1-0 in the 29th minute on a goal by sophomore Veronica Latsko, off an assist from junior Tina Iordanou.
The Waves answered with goals in the 36th and 81st minutes, but Virginia pulled even on an unassisted goal by freshman Courtney Petersen with six minutes left in regulation. Two scoreless overtimes followed, after which the ‘Hoos headed to the airport.
“From our perspective, it was exactly what we wanted and what we needed,” Swanson said of the West Coast trip. “We got tested. I think both UCLA and Pepperdine are very, very good teams, and to go out and to get results against both of them was good for us.
“Obviously, we felt a little bit disappointed in the result on Sunday, but having said that, I think it was probably a fair result. I think we were more disappointed in the performance than the result. But you have to give Pepperdine credit. I think they’re a good team.”
As a precaution, Doniak played only 16 minutes versus Pepperdine. The Cavaliers want her healthy for ACC play, and so “we just don’t want to take any chances with her in that situation, Swanson said.
That Virginia fared so well without its top offensive player speaks to the team’s depth and talent.
“I think we had a lot of players step up,” Swanson said. “I thought [senior] Brittany Ratcliffe had her best weekend in a Virginia jersey for us, and Veronica Latsko really stepped up offensively and really was a workhorse for us in a lot of ways.
“I think we had some really good performances on Friday from a lot of players. We just have to get a little more consistent in putting two performances together, both Friday and Sunday, in a short turnaround.”
Swanson said the trip helped the coaching staff identify areas in which Cavaliers, who have outscored opponents 20-4 this season, must improve.
“I think defensively as a team we’ve got to sharpen up a few things collectively,” Swanson said, “get a little more organized there, a little more in tune with one another in between our lines and things like that.
“And then attacking-wise, I think we created enough chances to score a lot of goals in both games. We gotta continue to work on our finishing and work on our decision-making in the final third.”
Virginia faced two outstanding goalies in California, and that’s “something we’ve got to be prepared for,” Swanson said. “We’re going to get teams’ best shot, we’re going to get goalies’ best day, and I think we’ve got to be able to break things open when we have the opportunity, and that’s something we need to work on.”
Other than an exhibition in Michigan against Illinois last month, the ‘Hoos had not played away from KlÃƒÂ¶ckner before arriving in the Golden State. The experience, Doniak believes, will pay dividends for the team.
“You gotta play the best to be the best,” she said, “and coming out here and playing two great teams is going to be really great for us down the road.”