UVA Soccer Expects Continued Success in 2018
Nov. 30, 2017
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Swanson directs the University of Virginia women’s soccer team, which entered the 64-team NCAA tournament this month as one of the four No. 3 seeds. The Cavaliers won their first two games before losing 2-1 in Los Angeles to UCLA, a No. 2 seed, in the Sweet Sixteen.
“You have to give them their due,” Swanson said of the Bruins, who will play this weekend in the College Cup, soccer’s version of the Final Four. “They could win it.”
Still, Swanson said, he can’t help wondering what might have been.
“You look at it now and look back at the season, and you think in many ways you could say the team overachieved in some ways,” he said. “But then in other ways, if you were to reflect on it a little more, you’d say this team could have gone further.”
Gelnovatch is the longtime coach of the UVA men’s soccer team, which earned the No. 11 overall seed, and with it a first-round bye, in the 48-team NCAA tournament. In their second-round game, the Wahoos suffered a stunning defeat at Klöckner Stadium. They dominated possession but fell 1-0 to unheralded Fordham.
“I understand that sport is a funny thing and soccer can be a funny thing,” Gelnovatch said, “but in the end, we have to win that game. We have to win that game.”
Fordham ousted another ACC power, No. 6 seed Duke, in a third-round game last weekend. After 110 minutes, the teams were tied 2-2, but the Rams prevailed in a penalty-kick shootout to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals.
“But that game was a little bit more back and forth,” Gelnovatch said. “Our game [against Fordham], that was not back and forth. We had that team pinned in their half of the field, and they [had only one] good chance in the game, which makes it even tougher to swallow.”
He was convinced the “worst-case scenario” for the Cavaliers, Gelnovatch said, would be a penalty-kick shootout. But a defensive breakdown led to a Fordham goal in the 83rd minute, and the Cavaliers could not produce the equalizer.
Gelnovatch, who ranks fifth in career goals at UVA, has won two NCAA titles as head coach at his alma mater, and he believed his latest team was good enough to reach the College Cup. Instead, the Cavaliers’ offseason started at least a week earlier than the soccer world expected.
“I think it hurts us all,” Gelnovatch said, “because I felt like the team was in that sweet spot. Not just talent-wise, but I think the chemistry and everything around it was good about the team. So I think that made it hurt more.”
The UVA men finished with a 12-4-5 record. The Virginia women were 13-6-4, with each of the six losses by a single goal.
“We certainly felt like we were in every game,” said Swanson, whose team played a rugged schedule. “The biggest thing now is to figure out ways to break down teams better and to convert our chances better.”
Under Swanson, the `Hoos have been known for their high-scoring offenses, but his latest squad struggled in the attacking third. Virginia averaged 3.0 goals a game in 2013, 3.4 in 2014, 3.2 in 2015, and 2.4 last season. UVA averaged only 1.6 goals per game this season.
“There’s a lot of reasons for that,” Swanson said, “but I think technically we have to get better, and decision making-wise we have to get better in that area of the field, and we have to do the same thing defensively. We gave up goals I think a little bit too easily at times.
“The same things that I think the players have to do in terms of improving and working at it, I think the coaches have to do, too, and I’m looking forward to that already.”
Latsko was named to the All-ACC first team, Reid to the second team. Two other Cavaliers — sophomore defender Phoebe McClernon and freshman forward Taryn Torres — made the All-ACC third team. Other returning players will include Taylor Ziemer, Betsy Brandon, Montana Sutton, Brianna Westrup, Hana Kerner, Zoe Morse, Sydney Zandi and Alissa Gorzak, who started six games this fall before suffering a season-ending injury.
“We have a lot of good pieces returning, and a lot of experience returning,” Swanson said. “That doesn’t guarantee goals or results, but I certainly feel we’re going to be much further along [to start 2018), and I do think it’s very hard to put a value on the experience piece. I think a lot of our players through this year got the experience of being in challenging games, playing away from home in back-to-back big games.
“There wasn’t really much rest in our schedule. My hope is that the experience that came with that not only gives the players the confidence to come back and play next year, but also gives them the visual picture of what they need to work on and what we need to work on over this next year in order to improve our team even more.”
Laurel Ivory, who graduated from high school a year early to enroll at UVA, started every game in goal as a true freshman this season.
“She’s a real student of the game, and she’s very motivated,” Swanson said. “I think to get her in this environment at this time was the right move for her. I think she learned a lot this year. We just have to do a better job of giving her a chance to make saves in games.”
Of the 17 goals Virginia allowed this fall, many came on shots taken from “inside the 18 [yard box],” Swanson said. “If we can limit the chances inside the 18, give her a chance to make saves from distance, I think that’s going to make a big difference in terms of our results as well.”
His incoming recruits should strengthen the Cavaliers’ weak spots, Swanson said, but a productive offseason will be essential if the team is to reach its goals in 2018.
“At the end of the day, to me it’s going to be about how well each of us develops over this time,” Swanson said. “Are we going to be willing to put in the work and do the things we need to do to grow as a team and make our team even better? That’s our biggest challenge, but I really like this team. I think they really value the team aspect. They’ve really come together as a team, and they’re hard workers as well.
“I think the big thing is, there’s a real eagerness to get back. I think everybody’s very motivated because of this year, because of the improvement we showed, and because we feel we’ve got a lot of pieces coming back.”
The UVA men will return a strong nucleus too. The team’s starters included only three seniors: goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell, defender Sheldon Sullivan and midfielder Pablo Aguilar. Also, junior forward Edward Opoku, who scored a game-high eight goals this season, might be enticed to leave by a professional contract.
Junior midfielder Jean-Christophe Koffi is expected to lead the Cavaliers’ returning players. Koffi was the Cavaliers’ only selection on the All-ACC first team. Aguilar, Caldwell and Opoku made the All-ACC second team, and junior center back Sergi Nus was a third-team pick. Midfielder Joe Bell made the ACC’s all-freshman team.
Other players with eligibility remaining include Raheem Taylor-Parkes, Robin Afamefuna, Nathaniel Crofts Jr., Prosper Figbe, Jerren Nixon Jr., Kennedy Nwabia, Irakoze Donasiyano, Henry Kessler, who’s expected to take over for Sullivan at left back, and Colin Shutler, a goalkeeper who’ll be a candidate to succeed Caldwell in the goal.
His team’s biggest need, Gelnovatch said, is a physical center forward, a player who “makes good runs in the box, can head the ball when we need to cross the ball, who can score in different ways: with his head, with a ball coming in with his feet. We have been on the search for that goal-scoring kind of No. 9.
“We have to get that addressed. It’s the one piece, I felt like, that this team needed.”
A player in the mold of former UVA star Will Bates would be ideal, Gelnovatch said. Nwabia, a 6-2, 210-pound junior who began his college career at Dayton, played in only four games this season, but he’ll get an opportunity in the spring to impress the coaches.
In a season in which they advanced to the ACC final, the `Hoos averaged 1.6 goals per game. That’s more than they averaged in 2014 (1.2), when the Cavaliers captured the program’s seventh NCAA title, or in 2015 (1.3) or 2016 (1.5).
But that’s not enough, Gelnovatch said. “We need one more guy, possibly two, who can score goals.”