By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The University of Virginia women’s soccer team opened its season on Aug. 23 with an 8-0 victory over UNC Wilmington at Klöckner Stadium.
Virginia head coach Steve Swanson doesn’t expect the rematch to be so one-sided, and his team is taking nothing for granted as its second encounter with UNCW approaches.
In the second round of the NCAA tournament, UVA (17-1-2), a No. 1 seed, hosts UNCW (15-6-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. The winner will take on Southern California (15-5-1) or Princeton (14-3-1) in the round of 16 at 2 p.m. Sunday at Klöckner Stadium.
USC, one of the tourney’s No. 4 seeds, faces unseeded Princeton at 4 p.m. Friday at Klöckner.
Swanson said the Cavaliers will not look past the Seahawks, who compete in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“On the one side, that’s because it’s the [NCAA] tournament, and our players realize that in one game anything can happen,” Swanson said. “I think they’re very focused on this game.”
Moreover, he said, the Wahoos “have no illusions” about what happened in the opener. That game was played on a Sunday afternoon. Two days earlier, UNCW had opened its season with a 3-2 loss to Appalachian State in Boone, N.C., about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Charlottesville.
“We were very well-rested,” Swanson recalled, “and they were coming off a road loss. I think we’re going to have a much different game, and we’re under no illusions [about the Seahawks].
“They’re a quality side. Any time you can go down to South Carolina and win there, that shows you’re a quality side.”
In the NCAA tournament’s first round, the Seahawks knocked off the Gamecocks 2-0 in Columbia last Friday. South Carolina entered the game with a 9-1 record at home.
The College Cup, NCAA soccer’s version of the Final Four, begins Dec. 4 in Cary, N.C., on the women’s side. The `Hoos advanced to the NCAA semifinals in 2013 and to the championship game last season, and their goal from the start this year has been a third straight appearance in the College Cup.
Still, Swanson said, his veterans know the importance of focusing on the next opponent, and not on long-term goals. And so the Cavaliers, who opened the NCAA tournament with a 7-1 win over Howard last weekend, have made sure to “give these teams, especially UNC Wilmington, the respect they deserve,” Swanson said.
Several freshmen have played key roles for Virginia this season, among them Betsy Brandon, Courtney Petersen and Hana Kerner. Overall, though, this team has extensive experience in the NCAA tournament. UVA’s veterans know what’s at stake this time of year, but the pressure isn’t likely to rattle them. They’ve been here before.
“You don’t want them to get too comfortable, for sure,” Swanson said, “but at the same time I think they’re comfortable with the fact that it’s a tournament setting and you’re playing for the right to go on. And to have that experience, that’s good.
“Especially the fourth- and fifth-years. They’re good leaders already, and they know what’s to be expected.”
Those upperclassmen include defenders Emily Sonnett and Kristen McNabb, midfielders Alexis Shaffer, Kaili Torres and Brittany Ratcliffe, forward Makenzy Doniak and goalkeeper Morgan Stearns.
Doniak, a senior from Chino Hills, Calif., near Los Angeles, had a goal and three goals in the season-opening win over UNCW. She’ll leave Virginia — after five more games, she hopes — as the most prolific scorer in program history.
With 62 career goals and 160 career points, Doniak is Virginia’s all-time leader in each category. She’s tied for fourth in career assists, with 36.
Had nagging injuries not slowed Doniak during the regular season, her totals in each category would probably be significantly higher. But she’s healthier now, and the medical report in general is positive for the `Hoos.
“I think, knock on wood, we’re going to be getting some players back soon,” said Swanson, who’s in his 16th season at Virginia. “We’re getting closer to full strength.”
The Cavaliers’ record at Klöckner Stadium this season is 10-1, and they were 14-0 at home last season. As a No. 1 seed, Virginia, if it keeps winning, is assured of playing at home until the College Cup.
“I think that’s something we’ve worked very hard for since January, and one of the rewards of having the regular season we did,” Swanson said. “This is one of our goals, and now it’s up to us to follow through and do what we can do, starting Friday, to take advantage of all the work we’ve put in.”