By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the University of Virginia women’s soccer team, the spring season ended Sunday with an emphatic win over Wake Forest at a neutral site: on Virginia Tech’s campus in Blacksburg.
In all, the Cavaliers played seven games this spring: one against the UVA men’s club and six against other college women’s teams. The team reconvened after the semester began in January, and for Virginia’s returning players, the practices and games were an opportunity to continue honing their skills.
For Alexa Spaanstra and Ashlynn Serepca, this was their first taste of college soccer.
Spaanstra, who’s from Brighton, Michigan, and Serepca, who’s from Cornelius, North Carolina, enrolled at UVA in January after graduating early from their respective high schools.
“I think it was extremely beneficial for them, and also for the team, to have them in early,” Swanson said Monday. “I think they’re much more ensconced in what we’re doing. They understand the system, the terminology, and we’ve tried them in different positions, so we’re much further along than they would have then. And I think they both have made significant contributions to the team already, and so that’s exciting.”
Spaanstra and Serepca are veterans of U.S. Soccer’s national age-group teams and have known each other for about four years. Each made midyear enrollment a goal after committing to UVA.
“They’re both very bright students,” Swanson said.
Spaanstra said she and her parents “discussed it and thought it would be a good idea to get enrolled and get ahead with classes and get used to the collegiate level.”
Serepca was of a like mind. She attended Hough High School and twice was named North Carolina’s Gatorade player of the year, and so she’d accomplished almost everything she could at that level. Moreover, most of her teammates in the Carolina Rapids club were older and left for college last summer, so she was eager to start her UVA career.
“I knew going ahead and getting spring games and just training here would be so much better,” said Serepca, whose brother, Joel, attends Virginia Tech.
That she’s not going through this experience alone, Spaanstra said, has made it easier, and Serepca echoed that comment.
“Having each other helps,” Serepca said. “I think I was kind of expecting it to be a lot harder, with not really knowing where to go and how to get around. But we’re in similar classes, and we’re with each other all the time. We’re able to figure it out together, and our team is so close here and everyone gets along so well that they were just very welcoming in helping us and taking us in. The adjustment was so easy right from the beginning.”
Like Serepca, Spaanstra already knew a few of her UVA teammates from her experience with U.S. Soccer. The freshmen have joined a perennial power. Virginia finished 13-6-4 last season after losing to UCLA in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet Sixteen. Each of the six losses was by a single goal.
The Wahoos’ returning players include Phoebe McClernon, Taryn Torres, Taylor Ziemer, Betsy Brandon, Montana Sutton, Courtney Petersen, Brianna Westrup, Hana Kerner, Zoe Morse, Sydney Zandi, Alissa Gorzak and Laurel Ivory, who started every game in goal last season.
Virginia posted a 4-2 record against women’s teams this spring.
“It was good,” Swanson said. “My biggest thing in the spring is how much do we get better from January to this time, and I think we got significantly better.”
Spaanstra, who turned 18 in February, stands 5-5, as does Serepca, who turns 18 in June. Both are accustomed to playing in attacking roles, but Swanson hasn’t decided exactly how he’ll use them in the fall.
“I’m still looking at that, but I think I’ve got a better idea now,” he said. “They’re both very versatile, and I think that’s going to be important for us. They both technically are pretty good, and they’re both competitors. They’re good athletes.”
Moreover, Swanson said, the newcomers are “earning whatever they get, and I think they deserve credit for that, too. I think they’ve earned the respect of their teammates so far, just in how hard they’re working, and just the way they’ve been going about things so far.
“They add a lot in terms of their physicality, their competitiveness, and their technical ability. They’re hungry. I think they’re both very hungry, and that’s been great for our program. It’ll almost be like they’ll be second-years coming into the fall.”
Not every recruit is able to enroll at UVA in the middle of a school year. But when it works for both parties, Swanson said, midyear enrollment can help a player tremendously.
“It’s five months of training and getting acclimated,” he said, “and not just on the athletic side. It’s also on the academic side. It’s having a chance to immerse yourself in the University of Virginia without the demands of a fall in-season sport.”
Spaanstra and Serepca have “transitioned exceptionally well,” Swanson said. “I have to give them a lot of credit. It’s not easy to come in here midstream, but school-wise, social-wise, soccer-wise — everything — it was like they’ve been here for three years.
Serepca recently was called into the training pool for the United States’ under-19 national team. Spaanstra, who represented the U.S. in 2016 at the U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan, was added to the U-20 camp.
FIFA’s U-20 Women’s World Cup will be held Aug. 5-24 in France, and several Cavaliers could make the U.S. team, including Ivory, Torres, Morse, Zandi, Spaanstra and Serepca. Players competing in France would probably miss a few UVA games early in the season.
Spaanstra, whose parents were college athletes, is the latest standout from Michigan to play for Swanson, a Michigan State graduate, at UVA. Others who have followed that route to Charlottesville include Morse, Petersen and former standouts Lindsay Gusick, Olivia Brannon and Annie Steinlage.
In July, the rest of the Cavaliers’ recruits for 2018-19 will arrive on Grounds. Spaanstra and Serepca plan to be as welcoming to their new classmates as the program’s veterans were to them in January.
“We can help them out when they’re adjusting, since we’ve already been through it all,” Serepca said. “So I think that’ll be good for them, too, because they can come to us about whatever and we can help them out and show them the way and give them tips.”