Sept. 27, 2015

By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For all members of the University of Virginia women’s soccer team, the experience was unpleasant. For most of the Cavaliers, it was also new.

Take junior midfielder Alexis Shaffer. Until Thursday night, when No. 6 Notre Dame edged top-ranked UVa 2-1 in double overtime, Shaffer had never lost a game at Klöckner Stadium.

“And so it was eye-opening,” Shaffer said of the defeat. “It was definitely weird. Virginia doesn’t lose that often, so to lose on your home turf took it a little bit deeper than normal.”

The Wahoos had won 38 consecutives matches at Klöckner before falling to the Fighting Irish. Until Thursday, the ‘Hoos had not lost there since Nov. 18, 2012, when Duke upset them in the NCAA tournament’s third round, and opponents were well aware of the streak.

“I told our team that the other day, `You need to understand, when people come to play at Klöckner, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot,’ ” head coach Steve Swanson said.

“We always have and we always will. There’s a certain way we have to respond to that, and everything we do — the way we move, the mindset that we have when the ball comes to us, focusing on our first touch, looking early and see where our support is, making good runs — all that is part of that mentality.

“You’re just not going to play teams like this and expect to show up and get goals. You gotta make it happen.”

Sunday brought an opportunity for the `Hoos to return to form, and they did so against 19th-ranked Duke. On an overcast afternoon at Klöckner, the Cavaliers beat the Blue Devils 1-0 before a crowd of 1,546.

“I thought we responded well [to the Notre Dame] loss,” Swanson said.

UVa’s players had Friday off. When the team reconvened Saturday, senior defender Emily Sonnett said, “Steve made it clear that we have to come out and work every single day. We’re not going to just be handed things. So after having a loss at home, which is very rare for us, we focused on Sunday, and getting this good result was something we were really looking for.”

In the 11th minute, UVa goalkeeper Morgan Stearns dived to punch away a shot by Duke’s leading scorer, freshman Taylor Racioppi, keeping the game scoreless. The `Hoos (8-1-1 overall, 2-1 ACC) dominated the latter part of the first half, but they didn’t break through until the 56th minute, when Shaffer, from 6 yards out, knocked a cross from junior defender Tina Iordanou past Duke goalkeeper E.J. Proctor.

Virginia came close to scoring two more goals in the final 30 minutes. That the Cavaliers could not extend their lead added suspense to the late-game proceedings.

“It was a battle,” said Shaffer, who leads UVa in scoring this season with 14 points, on five goals and four assists.

“We had to play the full 90 minutes. Usually if you go up by a couple goals, you kind of sit back, kind of relax. This time, we were only up by one goal, so we really had to stay in the game, stay focused and keep competing all the way through.

“We were definitely disappointed with our loss, and we weren’t happy. And so I think we regrouped and came out here more hungry.”

Duke, like Notre Dame, is a strong defensive team, Swanson said, but “I think we just were a little bit smarter in our decisions on the day, and that made a difference. But our defending was good, too.”

The victory capped a five-game homestand for the Cavaliers, who defeated Duke (6-3-3, 0-1-2) for the seventh time in the teams’ past eight meetings.

“It’s important, really important, to take your points at home, especially against good competition,” Swanson said. “In conference games, these points are going to be very big for us. So we’re very excited about that. But I was just really happy with the mentality and how we came back after that disappointment on Thursday.”

The `Hoos won’t play at home again until Oct. 22, when they host ACC rival Louisville. Three days later, they’ll be back at Klöckner for a much-anticipated rematch with Florida State. FSU defeated UVa thrice last season, the final time for the NCAA title in Boca Raton, Fla.

First, however, Virginia will play four straight road games, all against ACC opponents. The first is Friday night against NC State in Raleigh.

“Every game’s going to be super, super, super competitive,” Sonnett said. “We’re playing ACC teams now. You’re always going to get a fight from each team.”

From its 2014 roster, UVa lost two All-America midfielders, Morgan Brian and Danielle Colaprico, but returned a large, talented group of players, among them Sonnett, Stearns, Shaffer, Iordanou, Makenzy Doniak, Kristen McNabb, Brittany Ratcliffe, Kaili Torres and Morgan Reuther.

Joining the veterans this summer were 12 freshmen, several of whom, including Courtney Petersen, Betsy Brandon and Hana Kerner, are playing prominent roles for the `Hoos.

“I think right now it’s just about putting the puzzle pieces together,” Sonnett said. “I think we’re all still trying to find our identity. With the new faces, I think everyone’s just trying to mesh and find our flow. Luckily today we were on the other side of things.”

Not everything went the Cavaliers’ way Sunday. In the 40th minute, Petersen went down with an undisclosed injury. After several minutes, she limped off the field, assisted by athletic trainer Bill Parente, and did not return to the game.

“I think you can see how important depth is,” Swanson said. “These were two tough games this week. Even though you have an extra day in between — it’s not Friday-Sunday, it’s Thursday-Sunday — it’s just really important, our depth. You just can’t play these games with 11 players.”

Little came easily for the Cavaliers in the final two games of this homestand, but that didn’t upset Swanson.

“Any time as a staff you can find out about your team, especially under adversity, that’s a good thing,” he said. “Thursday’s result, while disappointing, showed us a lot of things that we need to work on.”

The Duke game “was a good test for [UVa’s players], and they responded,” Swanson said. “That’s a good sign. It gives them confidence down the road. I think these are the games that are going to help us the most if we expect to get to postseason and if we expect to do well.”

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