By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– They passed each other in the hallway outside their McCue Center offices Monday afternoon, stopping long enough to exchange fist-bumps and greetings.
For Steve Swanson and George Gelnovatch, longtime friends and colleagues, these are heady times.
“It’s been an exceptional fall,” Swanson said.
Gelnovatch, a University of Virginia alumnus, is in his 24th year as head men’s soccer coach at his alma mater. This marks the 39th straight season Virginia has advanced to the NCAA men’s tournament.
Swanson is in his 20th season as head coach of the UVA women’s team, which has reached the NCAA tournament for the 26th consecutive year.
The Virginia women, who are seeking their first NCAA title, are 17-1-3. The men are 17-1-1. The women’s team is one of the four No. 1 seeds in its 64-team NCAA field. The men’s team is the No. 1 seed in its 48-team NCAA tourney.
“Crazy, right?” Gelnovatch said.
“It’s been great for both programs,” Swanson said. “I think both programs really support one another.”
Gelnovatch said: “I see Steve every day, not only in the office, but we cross paths [away from the McCue Center]. I learn a lot from different things from what they’re doing and trying.”
The UVA women defeated Radford 3-0 in the NCAA tournament’s first round. They host Washington State at 7 p.m. Friday at Klöckner Stadium.
As one of the top 16 seeds, the UVA men earned a first-round bye in the NCAAs. The Wahoos will face James Madison or Campbell in a second-round game Sunday at 1 p.m. at Klöckner. If the Virginia women beat Wazzu, they’ll play their third-round match at Klöckner at 5 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets for these games can be purchased in advance online.
If Swanson has a regret, it’s that his team didn’t win the ACC tournament. In the championship game, the Cavaliers lost 2-1 to North Carolina on a golden goal early in the second overtime at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
A week later, on the same field, the UVA men knocked off top-seeded Clemson 3-1 to win the ACC title for the first time since 2009.
“How great would that have been for both teams to win the ACC?” Swanson said. “That’s hard to do, and we were right there. But we were really happy for [the UVA men]. We’re very dialed-in, I think, both of us. Even though we’re in our own seasons, I think we’re both tuned in to one another and the programs are very in tune.”
In the ACC semifinals, the UVA women edged Florida State 2-1, and the next morning Swanson received a text message from Gelnovatch. Swanson read it to his players.
“It was great,” Swanson recalled. “He just said, ‘Forget the tactics, forget the ref.’ He said our kids’ will to fight was really impressive, and he said he would mention it to his team that day.”
It’s not unprecedented, of course, for these programs to shine in the same season. In 2013, Virginia was the only school represented in both the men’s and women’s College Cups. The same was true in 2014, when each team reached the NCAA title game.
In Boca Raton, Fla., the UVA women lost 1-0 to ACC foe Florida State. A week later, after 110 scoreless minutes in Cary, the UVa men defeated UCLA on penalty kicks, 4-2, to capture the program’s seventh NCAA crown.
Swanson said UVA soccer benefits from tremendous internal support.
“When I first came here 20 years ago, we didn’t have the resources that we do now,” Swanson said. “I think those resources, from academic advising, to sports nutrition, to sports psychology, to strength and conditioning, have been a huge part of our success.”
Another link between the programs is Peter Alston, who oversees strength and conditioning for each team. Alston, a former intern with D.C. United, has a master’s degree from UVA, where he’s also worked with the basketball programs.
“Peter deserves a lot of credit,” Gelnovatch said. “He’s super intelligent. I think he’s had a lot to do with the success of both of our programs, and I think Steve would say the same thing.”
Swanson agreed. “Peter is very familiar with the sport, and he’s very hands-on and personally involved, and we can individualize things a little bit more. I think all of that has certainly contributed significantly.”
Alston was with the women’s team Saturday night for its first-round game at Klöckner Stadium. “Then he gets up at 5:30 in the morning and drives to Cary to be with the men’s team [Sunday],” Swanson said.
The Virginia men won their final two games in the ACC tournament without the conference’s midfielder of the year, junior Joe Bell, who was in Europe playing for the New Zealand national team. Bell has returned to Charlottesville and will play in the NCAAs.
In Bell’s absence, sophomore Cabrel Happi Kamseu, who battled injuries during the regular season, sparkled, as did sophomore Daniel Steedman and junior Irakoze Donasiyano.
“Massive credit to those three guys,” Gelnovatch said. “They exceeded my expectations, all three of them, collectively. It wasn’t just Cabrel. Collectively, they all made adjustments, they all accepted their roles and did a great job.”
The UVA men reached the NCAAs in good health, for which Gelnovatch is thankful. “I was really, really worried about getting guys injured during that [ACC] final,” he said.
The Virginia women have not been as fortunate. The Cavaliers lost junior goalkeeper Laurel Ivory, a three-year starter, to a season-ending injury late in the second half of the ACC championship game. Several other key players have been out with injuries, too, though Swanson believes they’re close to returning.
Ivory’s teammates have been “very supportive of her,” Swanson said, “and I think that chemistry and that love has been very helpful for her. She’s an amazing person, and I think she’s handled this well. It’s not been easy. I know it’s been hard on her.”
With Ivory sidelined, sophomore Michaela Moran has taken over in goal for the Cavaliers. The rest of the team, including Ivory, has rallied around Moran, Swanson said. Moran has also heard from alumni of the program, including former goalie Celeste Miles.
“That was really gratifying to see,” Swanson said.