By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Soccer occupied a prominent place on the itinerary, as would be expected. During its recent tour of Italy, the University of Virginia women’s team went through training sessions, played three games and attended two professional matches.

Many of the Cavaliers’ most memorable moments abroad, though, occurred away from the game.

“We were playing soccer, and soccer’s important there,” goalkeeper Cayla White said, “but [the tour] allowed us to bond off the field more so than just coming in and bonding during preseason. I think that’s a little bit more chaotic time. Everyone’s stressed, and we’re working for playing time and stuff like that. So I thought it was an amazing bonding trip.”

The team left for Italy on May 25 and returned to the United States about two weeks later. The Wahoos were missing two of their best players—sophomores Maggie Cagle and Jill Flammia were representing the United States at the Concacaf U-20 Women’s Championship in the Dominion Republic—but the traveling party included the team’s five freshmen.

“That was huge,” head coach Steve Swanson said. “I think all the things that usually happen during the preseason happened during this time in Italy. With the training that we got before we left and on the whole trip to Italy, the incoming first-years don’t seem like that anymore, and hopefully that will be a huge advantage for us in the coming preseason, because they fit in really well. They connected with the entire team, and they added a lot to not only the trip, but they’re going to add a lot on the field as well. We can see that. That was a real positive of the trip.”

The first-year class consists of Yuna McCormack (who enrolled at UVA in January), Victoria Safradin, Allie Ross, Aniyah Collier and Ella Carter.

Cayla White

“I was a little worried at first how they were going to fit in and adjust to the new team so quickly,” White said, “but I think that was a very smart decision on Steve’s part to bring them in and to have them get acclimated with the team as fast as possible. They’re all awesome, and it felt like we were a whole with them there, and it really allowed us to bond on a different level.”

For the Hoos, this was their first trip abroad since 2017, when they toured France. They flew into Rome and were based there for six days, on one of which they took a side trip to the island of Capri.

In Rome, the team visited the city’s most famous attractions, including the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum. Outside Rome, in Frascati, the Hoos toured the Cantina Impertori winery and “got a good education on how to make wine,” Swanson said.

The Hoos’ next stop was Florence, where they spent four days before moving on to Como. Other highlights included a trip to Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera, a bike tour of the town of Lucca, and a visit to a farm where the team made pasta. They took a boat tour of Como and visited the village of Bellagio in that region.

“We got a good mix of everything on this trip,” Swanson said. “We packed a lot in.”

At the Vatican in Rome

There was time for some soccer, too. The Cavaliers played three games in Italy. They defeated AS Roma 5-1, lost 3-1 to Ternana, and tied Como 2-2. Not having Cagle and Flammia hindered the Hoos, as did injuries to several other players. Virginia did not have close to a full complement of players for any of the games.

“So we were kind of scrambling as far as personnel goes,” Swanson said.

That was less than ideal, but the Cavaliers pushed through the adversity.

“I feel like a lot of people stepped up into positions that they’re not probably playing in during the season,” White said, “and it was really nice to see them getting that playing time and getting that experience. So I would say on the positive side, it was really good for the people that don’t get full playing time in the season to get to learn and get experience playing, especially in a different country against professionals. It’s different. It’s a faster-paced game. They were a lot more aggressive than I think we were used to playing.

“We didn’t all the results that we wanted, but we can fix those areas when it comes to preseason. I was excited to see the incoming first-years get a lot of playing time, and I was really happy to see everyone get those type of minutes.”

White, whose play in goal helped Virginia advance to the NCAA quarterfinals last fall, is heading into her fifth year in the program. So is defender Lacey McCormack (no relation to Yuna).

“I think playing the Italian teams was a great learning experience for our team,” McCormack said, “because the competition was really tough, aside from the first game. The first game, we kind of were dominating, but the Italian teams, they played very aggressively. They’re physical, they’re really tough, they’re professionals, they’re very obviously into the sport.

“We had to be super adaptable and have a lot of grit. We were very low on numbers, and then the conditions were also difficult, because we were doing tons of traveling. Typically when we’re in ACC play we [rest before games], and in Italy we were focusing more on trying to get as much as we could out of the trip. I know some people were really tired before the games even started, and obviously that makes it hard to perform your best, but at the end of the day it’s important to put your best foot forward and give it your best shot. We were experiencing a life-changing trip, and so I feel like we were just really embracing it to the fullest. Obviously, we would have loved to have won all three games, but I think our team learned a lot within each game that we could take away and work on things over the summer and come back ready to go.”

From left to right: Samar Guidry, Talia Staude, Laney Rouse, Lacey McCormack

As a sophomore at Yorktown High School in Northern Virginia, McCormack traveled to Europe with a soccer team that also included Laney Rouse, now a defender at UVA. The trip this summer was different, with its emphasis “sightseeing and experiencing the culture, as opposed to strictly being focused on soccer,” McCormack said.

“I would say this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, because we got to bond with all our different teammates. We had the first-years come, which was super, super exciting, I think. For them to get to know us outside of the soccer field and early on is going to be a huge thing for our team this year, because now I feel like we kind of have a year up.

“I also think being able to explore and embrace an entirely different culture, that was so incredible. I’m a big proponent of Italian food, so I loved that aspect of it. I can eat pizza and pasta and gelato for every meal for weeks and weeks on end, so that was also a big plus to the trip. And then obviously just seeing all the different cities and how they’re each unique in their own way, and we had different experiences in each place. Overall, it was just super cool to be immersed is another culture.”

McCormack treasured the team’s stay in Florence, “because we had a lot of time to explore the city,” she said. “Sometimes we had more guided tours, and obviously that’s really cool, because you get to learn about the history of a city, but I liked being able to walk around and explore for ourselves.

“We ate a lot of gelato there. We shopped for some leather products and kind of had to bargain with some of the vendors in the leather market. I thought that was really cool. I also tried their Florence steak, because I heard great, great things about it, and it was the best steak I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

White, who like McCormack is from Arlington, won’t soon forget the team’s boat ride on Lake Como or the artwork at the Vatican.

“It’s unreal, I feel like, what I’ve witnessed in the past month,” White said. “I’m used to seeing it on TV, and I was actually in it.”

The Cavaliers, who open the season Aug. 17 against Nevada at Klöckner Stadium, attended two pro men’s games in Italy, each of which drew more than 70,000 fans. In Rome, the Hoos saw Lazio edge Cremonese 3-2 at Stadio Olimpico. In Milan, they saw AC Milan defeat Verano 3-1 at San Siro Stadium.

“I have never been to a game that was that packed,” White said. “I’ve been to an MLS game or a women’s game over here, and it was nothing compared to what we witnessed over there. Their fans are different, that’s for sure. Everyone loves the game. There’s so much passion, so much energy. It was different. It was amazing.”

The same was true of the Hoos’ Italian odyssey. “It was quite remarkable,” White said.

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At a winery in in Frascati