By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– The unthinkable happened Friday night at Klöckner Stadium. The University of Virginia women’s soccer team, one of the four No. 1 seeds in its NCAA tournament, lost in the second round.
“It was devastating,” said Andreas Ueland, a freshman center back on the UVA men’s team. “I was watching the game and felt so bad. We’re so close to them, and to see them lose was terrible.”
The men’s head coach, George Gelnovatch, and his counterpart on the women’s side, Steve Swanson, are longtime friends and colleagues. When he met with his team Saturday morning, Gelnovatch brought up the women’s result.
“We all support each other, and I’m absolutely gutted for them,” Gelnovatch said. “I felt Saturday morning like I lost, and all I said to the team was, ‘Anything can happen in sport. Let’s remember to come out with a lot of intensity, with a lot of concentration, with a lot of discipline, and just not get caught in one of those games.’ “
This is Gelnovatch’s 24th season as head coach at his alma mater, and he’s guided the Cavaliers to two NCAA titles (2009 and 2014). He’s also been on the wrong side of postseason upsets. In 2017, for example, as the No. 11 seed in the 48-team NCAA tournament, UVA fell 1-0 to Fordham in a second-round game at Klöckner Stadium.
His latest team is one of his most talented. After capturing the ACC title last weekend, the Wahoos were awarded the No. 1 overall seed (and a first-round bye) in the NCAAs. Still, Gelnovatch was wary as Virginia’s second-round game approached.
“Being at home, being a top seed, and coming off an ACC championship, this first game is always the nerviest one a little bit,” Gelnovatch said.
He was more animated than usual at practice last week, Gelnovatch said, and he challenged his players to produce a complete performance against Campbell. They delivered.
Junior forward Nathaniel Crofts assisted on the first goal and scored the second Sunday to help the Hoos oust the Camels 2-0 on a sunny, breezy afternoon at Klöckner Stadium.
“We just had to make sure we came out ready and firing,” Crofts said.
The Cavaliers (18-1-1) dominated most of the game, limiting Campbell (17-3-2) to two shots, but they didn’t break through until the 38th minute. Crofts, on the right side, sent a long cross into the box, and junior forward Spencer Patton deflected the ball past goalkeeper Samuel Lechuga.
“That was just a weight off our shoulders,” Crofts said. “To get the first goal is crucial, and we got that, so that was good for us.”
Gelnovatch praised the “run that Spencer made. He had to come a long way and get inside a very fast, athletic defender. But that’s the kind of commitment it takes to get that goal, so I’m happy and proud for him.”
In the 85th minute, the Hoos ended any lingering suspense. Crofts, at the far post, converted a cross from freshman forward Axel Gunnarsson, and Virginia was headed to the round of 16.
“Getting the second goal was big,” Gelnovatch said.
Virginia will face No. 16 seed St. John’s, which edged Syracuse 2-1 on Sunday night, at Klöckner Stadium at 7 p.m. Saturday. If the Cavaliers win that game, they would be at home in the NCAA quarterfinals too.
In 2018, when the Hoos were seeded No. 10, they went on the road for their third-round game. UVA lost 1-0 to Notre Dame.
“This year we’ll have a nice Thanksgiving as a team, and we don’t go anywhere,” Gelnovatch said. “We get ready for the next game. That’s really important.”
Crofts said: “We don’t have to go across the country or fly or drive on a bus. To be at home is definitely an advantage for us.”
Campbell came to Charlottesville on a 15-game unbeaten streak. Led by Thibaut Jacquel, a junior from Saverne, France, the Camels had the nation’s third-highest scoring offense (2.81 goals per game). Jacquel entered the NCAA tournament with 17 goals, and he scored his 18th in Campbell’s first-round win over JMU in Harrisonburg.
Against the Cavaliers, who posted their NCAA-best 14th shutout, Jacquel didn’t take a single shot. Forming the core of UVA’s defense are goalkeeper Colin Shutler and backs Ueland, Henry Kessler, Bret Halsey and Robin Afamefuna.
“I put the challenge to both Henry and Andreas,” Gelnovatch said. “We knew [Jacquel’s] tendencies, we knew the things he likes to do, and those guys [shut him down]. But they’ve been doing that all year, those two guys. I think it’s the best center back pairing in the country, and they ate him up and did a great job.”
Another standout was Halsey, a sophomore who played the full 90 minutes at right back. A graduate of Potomac Falls High in Northern Virginia, Halsey appeared in only one game last season.
“He’s come a long way,” Gelnovatch said.
Late in the game Sunday, Halsey neutralized “one of the most athletic guys we’ve played all year,” Gelnovatch said. “So he’s really coming along nicely.”
The same is true for the Cavaliers, who are fully aware of the stakes this time of year.
“We know that we’re in postseason now, and if we lose we’re out of the tournament,” Ueland said. “We’re absolutely playing for more now than we did in the regular season.”