By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA women’s soccer tournament has come and gone this fall, and for the first time in Steve Swanson’s 24 seasons as head coach at the University of Virginia, his program had to watch all the action from the sidelines.

Swanson tuned in for some of the tournament, gathering information that might help UVA in 2024. It was difficult to be on the outside looking in, he said in his McCue Center office, “but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing.”

Virginia lost only three of its 17 games this season. But the Cavaliers finished with nearly as many ties (six) as victories (eight) and were unable to capitalize on opportunities for résumé-enhancing wins. UVA was 3-3-4 in ACC play.

“We didn’t get the results when we needed them,” Swanson said. “We didn’t win the games we needed to win, and we have to take ownership for that. And I think the more you can take ownership for that, the more you can control the change that needs to occur.”

Injuries became a major storyline for the Wahoos. Lia Godrey and Emma Dawson were hurt last spring and missed the whole season. Laney Rouse went down with a season-ending injury in the Aug. 17 opener, and Brianna Jablonowski was lost for the season a week later.

Had some or all of those players stayed healthy, the fall undoubtedly would have unfolded differently, Swanson acknowledged. Other starters, including Samar Guidry, Chloe Japic and Jill Flammia, played through injuries that limited their effectiveness.

“That was a factor for sure,” Swanson said. “But I think the right thing to do here is take ownership for our season. I think we as a team felt we should have made the tournament, even with the injuries. We’re disappointed that we didn’t, and we have to own that and we have to take responsibility for that. And I think our players have done a really good job of that.

“Things happen for a reason. I think this was a tough year for us. It’s not what we wanted when we started out. We didn’t expect all the things that happened to us. But I think we’re going to embrace what we need to and move on and work really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again. My thing is, the best way we can get better is by controlling what we can control, and that’s something we can get better at.”

In 17 games, the Hoos allowed only 11 goals. “That’s championship level,” Swanson said. At the other end of the field, however, Virginia’s productivity dropped. After averaging 2.5 goals per game in 2021 and 2.4 per game in 2022, the Cavaliers fell to 1.9 this year.

“I don’t think that tells a complete story, but that’s certainly part of it,” Swanson said. “That’s a significant decrease. I don’t think that it was we weren’t creating chances.”

The Hoos averaged 16.9 shots per game in 2022 and 15.9 per game this season. “So that’s not a big drop,” Swanson said. “I thought we had chances in every game. When I look at the games against North Carolina, Iowa, Michigan, Duke, NC State, Boston College, Clemson, Louisville, we had chances to win all those games … The big thing is, and what I want our players to really own, we had opportunities. We got ourselves in good positions, but as a collective unit, we didn’t make the play when we needed to. The only way we’re going to get better is if we own that and not make excuses.”

Maggie Cagle (10)

Virginia’s non-conference victories were over Nevada (5-0), Radford (5-0), George Mason (4-0), West Virginia (2-1) and VCU (4-1). In ACC play, UVA defeated Virginia Tech (3-0), Miami (1-0) and Syracuse (4-0).

“I feel like we had some good performances,” Swanson said. “We just didn’t get results, especially when we needed to, but I was proud of the way the team handled the year.”

Virginia will have to replace five players—Jablonowski, Talia Staude, Lacey McCormack, Cayla White and Peyton Goldthwaite—and those are significant losses. Staude and McCormack each started all 17 games this fall, and White started 15 in the goal.

Still, there’s ample reason to believe the Hoos will return to form in 2024. A talented core set to return, including players like Godfrey, Dawson, Rouse, Guidry, Flammia, Japic, Maggie Cagle, Yuna McCormack, Meredith McDermott, Allie Ross, Sarah Brunner, Alexis Theoret, Ella Carter, Laughlin Ryan, Aniyah Collier, Kathryn Kelly, Kiki Maki and goalkeeper Victoria Safradin.

“There’s some really good, key pieces,” Swanson said.

Godfrey, a midfielder, was a first-team All-American in 2022, when she totaled eight goals and five assists.

Cagle, a forward, led the Hoos with 23 points (eight goals, seven assists) as a sophomore this season and was named to the All-ACC second team. Another sophomore forward, McDermott, contributed 19 points (eight goals, three assists), and Ross, a freshman forward, finished with 15 points (six goals, three assists).

Yuna McCormack, a midfielder, was second on the team in assists, with five, and was named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team. She also scored a goal.

At least five incoming freshmen will join the team after this school year ends, and Virginia is likely to add several players from the transfer portal.

The Cavaliers closed the season with their Oct. 26 rout of Syracuse, but they didn’t put away their cleats for another month.

“We trained all the way through to the last minute we could [in late November],” Swanson said. “We had some really good training sessions between the time that the NCAA tournament was announced and the time we [stopped], and I think that’s a testament to the players that we have. They’re not happy. I think they’re more hungry than they’ve ever been. I feel like if we can use the experiences that we’ve gained and just keep building on those, that’s going to help us going into next year.”

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Lia Godfrey