By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Between them, they’ve won 15 NCAA championships in men’s soccer, and they’re considered royalty in the sport. For all their postseason success, however, Virginia and Indiana have collided in the NCAA tournament only twice.

In 1983, the Hoosiers defeated the Cavaliers 3-1 in the NCAA semifinals. In 1994, UVA edged Indiana 1-0 in the NCAA championship game. George Gelnovatch, who’s in his 28th season as Virginia’s head coach, remembers both clashes with the Hoosiers. A forward for the Wahoos in ’83, he was Bruce Arena’s top assistant in ’94.

“Over the years, there’s been paths where we’ve could have met [again] in the NCAA tournament, and it just never seemed to manifest,” Gelnovatch said. “Last year was one of them.”

In 2022, Virginia, seeded No. 4 in the 48-team tournament, lost a penalty-kick shootout to Marshall in the second round. Had the Cavaliers advanced, they would have hosted Indiana in the Sweet Sixteen.

“But this time it’s worked out,” Gelnovatch said, “so I think it’s a classic matchup.”

At 1 p.m. Sunday, No. 7 seed UVA (11-3-4) takes on Indiana (14-4-4) at Klöckner Stadium. The winner will face No. 2 seed Notre Dame or Western Michigan in next weekend’s NCAA quarterfinals.

“These are the games everyone gets excited about in the college landscape,” Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley told

UVA has won seven NCAA titles (1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2009, 2014). Indiana has been crowned NCAA champion eight times (1982, 1983, 1988, 1998, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2012). Only Saint Louis, with 10, has captured more national titles.

“I think we’re all aware that [Indiana] comes to the tournament ready every year,” Virginia goalkeeper Joey Batrouni said, “so I think we’re getting prepared for that. We have the experience as well and we have the culture and tradition, and it goes way back for our program as well. So it’s gonna be a great match.”

Joey Batrouni

The Hoosiers, last year’s NCAA runners-up, are in the Sweet Sixteen for the ninth consecutive season. The Hoos are back in this round for the first time since 2019, when they went on to reach the College Cup (and lost a penalty-kick shootout to Georgetown in the championship game).

“It’s special,” senior forward Leo Afonso said of playing on this stage.

Parity across college soccer has made advancing in the NCAA tournament more challenging than when Gelnovatch played for the Cavaliers. Look no further than this year’s tourney. Sixteen teams were awarded seeds and earned first-round byes. Six of them fell in the second round last weekend: Nos. 4 (Georgetown), 10 (Wake Forest), 11 (Portland), 12 (UCF), 13 (UCLA) and 15 (Duke).

“Everything’s tighter,” Gelnovatch said.

Little came easily for Virginia in its second-round match with Florida International at Klöckner. Afonso scored the game’s first goal in the 35th minute, but FIU answered five minutes later, and the second half ended with the score 1-1. In the first of two 10-minute overtime periods, a UVA corner kick led to Afonso’s second goal, a spectacular bicycle kick, and that closed out the scoring.

“I think winning that game gave us a lot of momentum going into the third round,” Batrouni said.

A transfer from Coastal Carolina, Batrouni is in his first year at Virginia. He chose UVA partly because he wanted to experience the NCAA tournament, and “playing against FIU last week was definitely a surreal moment,” Batrouni said.

Afonso had only one NCAA tournament game on his résumé before last weekend. The Hoos went into last year’s tourney looking to make a deep run, but Marshall thwarted those plans.

“Hopefully this year we can do that,” Afonso said.

Leo Afonso (7)

Afonso, who missed nine regular-season games with a sprained ankle, is third on the team with 12 points (five goals, two assists). Freshman forward Stephen Annor leads the Cavaliers with 20 points (10 goals), and senior midfielder Mouhameth Thiam, a transfer from Oregon State, is second with 14 points (five goals and four assists).

Annor, the ACC Freshman of the Year, has had little room to operate in Virginia’s two postseason games.

“Any time a ball is either crossed in the box or cut back in the box, those center backs are taught to be touch tight to him everywhere in the box,” Gelnovatch said, “because of the runs he makes, how good he is in the air. So the runs that were working for him in the regular season, they’re harder. Everything’s harder, so he’s got to be more clever, but I think what’s going to help is Leo.”

Like Annor, Afonso is a prolific scorer whom opposing defenses must account for, and Virginia’s coaches used the forwards creatively against the Panthers.

“We threw a couple different looks at them,” Gelnovatch said. “Stephen started and then Leo came in. And then Stephen came out and Leo went back in. Then I took Leo back out just for five minutes and put them both back in. It keeps throwing a curveball at the other team a little bit. I’ll do that again [against Indiana].”

Gelnovatch is delighted to be playing at home in the round of 16. Traveling on Thanksgiving weekend can be a challenge logistically, and that hasn’t been a concern this week.

“It’s just a fun week to train, to get ready, to be together,” Gelnovatch said. “We have meals together. We spend more time together.”

Afonso is savoring this stretch, too. He’ll graduate next month with a bachelor’s degree in foreign affairs. (He’s minoring in entrepreneurship.) Any game now could be Afonso’s  last as a Cavalier, and he’s in no hurry for that moment to arrive.

“As long as I can keep playing with those guys, I’d love to do that,” Afonso said.

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