By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The University of Virginia football team’s progress through 15 spring practices is chronicled on various media platforms, and thousands of fans turn out for the Blue-White intrasquad game at Scott Stadium every April.

Spring is a critical time of the year for UVA’s other fall sports as well, even if their profiles are considerably lower. Cross country runners stay sharp by competing in outdoor track & field, and Virginia’s field hockey, volleyball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer players hone the skills they’ll display when the new school year begins.

For the head coaches of those four teams, every spring is different. There’s a competitive component, with each team playing a spring schedule. But the results of those games or matches aren’t publicized, and player development is the primary focus in the offseason. A look at what those programs did this spring:

VOLLEYBALL: Virginia hosted JMU, visited Liberty and JMU, and played several matches at a multi-team event in Atlanta.

“For me, it’s not about winning and losing in the spring,” head coach Shannon Wells said. “I wanted to make sure I got everybody equal playing time, so I walked into every match with the lineups already done.”

In the Wahoos’ final spring match, against JMU in Harrisonsburg, “I didn’t play a lot of my seniors,” Wells said. “I pulled them aside and I said, ‘I know what you guys do. I’ve seen you guys in really tough moments. I know from a volleyball standpoint who you are as leaders, and I think it’s an opportunity to get some more experience for our newcomers.’ And so those returners did not play a lot. We played a lot of our newcomers and really let them work through some tough moments, which I thought was a huge benefit for our program going into the fall.”

Shannon Wells

Another group of newcomers will join the team this summer, but Wells had close to a full roster this spring, including three players who enrolled at UVA in January: transfers Elayna Duprey (Virginia Tech) and Kadynce Boothe (Tennessee) and freshman Zoey Dood.

“That’s such a huge advantage,” Wells said, “because right now we feel like we have a roster that could compete on day one if the season started tomorrow. So that allowed us to be able to put the systems in place and start working on the things that we’re going to utilize in the fall, and even [helped] from a culture standpoint and the leadership standpoint.”

Wells is heading into her fourth season at UVA, and this is the first spring she’s been able to work with her two top setters. “And so we were able to implement our offense and have a better understanding of what tempos we want to run and the creativity we want to run out of that and give them those tools during the spring,” Wells said, “so that now when they’re on their own and doing open gyms in the summer they can continue to do that.”

The coaching staff also changed the team’s defensive approach, and having so many players available this spring meant that “if we had to play a match tomorrow, we felt like we had the roster to be able to compete in the ACC without even adding the newcomers,” Wells said. “So we’re further ahead this spring from a training perspective than we’ve ever been able to, just because of the depth and experience coming back, which is really exciting for us.”

FIELD HOCKEY: Former associate head coach Ole Keusgen used his first spring as the program’s new head coach to install his system.

“We had a very clean plan about what we wanted to change,” Keusgen said, “and we were able to spend time on the details.

“Very often when you’re in season, because you’re [playing] back to back to back, there’s just not enough time in between games. There’s also not enough energy if we play two games a weekend, to really focus on intense practices, to change certain principles or ideas. So that was something that was very important to us, and there are fundamental ideas and principles that we wanted to implement and change. And that comes certainly with a learning curve, and then you also gotta be good with losing a spring game [and using it as] a learning moment. It truly doesn’t matter what the outcome is, as long as we learn our lessons from what we wanted to achieve.”

Ole Keusgen

Three players will join the program this summer, but the Cavaliers had a decent-sized roster this spring. Five of UVA’s returning players, however, missed practice time while trying out for the U21 national team. Two of those players—Dani Mendez-Trendler and Mia Abello—also tried out for the team that will represent the United States at the Olympic Games in Paris this summer.

“It heavily impacted us,” Keusgen said, “and some of our best players were missing for an extended period of time, plus recovery after those intense sessions.”

Even so, he said, “I thought we made big strides as a team generally, the way we connected on the field.” In particular, Keusgen said, Mendez-Trendler made a massive step forward in terms of the player she can be and how she can impact our team with her play.”

UVA played five spring games, against Liberty, ODU, JMU, Duke and North Carolina.

“Five very tough games, very good opponents, and I thought we did well in the way we wanted to play,” Keusgen said, “because we were missing so many players that we were sometimes just playing with like 12 players, which means you can’t really keep a rotation. Playing time is almost double, compared to the fall, and it was unrealistic to ask them to do what we ask them to do in the fall. I thought in that regard they did a great job of implementing exactly what we wanted them to try to do.”

Injuries also limited the Cavaliers’ options, Keusgen said, and the coaching staff had to figure out how best “to control and design practices to keep [players] healthy and fit throughout the spring. So that was really a good learning curve for us. Because we had limited numbers, we had to learn how to control workload and work rate from our players to protect them.”

MEN’S SOCCER: Injuries were a major storyline for veteran head coach George Gelnovatch’s team.

Even at full strength, the Cavaliers would have had a reduced roster this spring after losing numerous players from last season, including their top three goal-scorers: Stephen Annor, Mouhameth Thiam and Leo Afonso. But returning players such as Paul Wiese, Reese Miller, Umberto Pela, Albin Gashi, Kome Ubogu and goalkeeper Joey Batrouni missed all or part of the spring while recovering from injuries.

“All things considered, the spring went pretty well,” said Gelnovatch, whose team played six matches, including three against ACC foes. “There were a couple of games where Danny Mangarov was the only starter from [2023] on the field.”

George Gelnovatch

Reinforcements, including transfers Hayes Wood (Lipscomb), Willem Ebbinge (Harvard) and Ato Smith Jr. (Tyler Junior College), will arrive after this school year ends. They weren’t options for the Hoos this spring, however, which meant more opportunities for the players who were on Grounds and in good health.

That group included midyear enrollees Nick Dang, Luc Mikula, Cam Yriondo, Drew Sarafino and Michael Howard. Dang (Lipscomb), Mikula (Coastal Carolina), Yriondo (Seattle Pacific) and Safarino (Boston College) are transfers, and Howard is a freshman.

Dang, a center back, has “a lot of Henry Kessler in him,” Gelnovatch said, referring to the former UVA star, “so he’s going to be a good one.”

Of the Cavaliers’ returning players, Victor Akoum probably shined the brightest this spring, Gelnovatch said. A center back from Edmonton, Canada, Akoum enrolled at Virginia in 2023 but redshirted last season.

“The guy’s a freak,” Gelnovatch said. “He’s a classic developmental guy who’s made a breakthrough. We took him because of his [potential]. He was rough around the edges, he was missing this, missing that, but as the spring went on, we saw the guy is a beast.”

The players to whom Gelnovatch will look for scoring in the fall, including Wood, Smith and incoming recruit Joaquin Brizuela, who’s from Argentina, weren’t available this spring, but the Cavaliers still competed well in their spring matches.

“All things considered, with the group that we had, we did OK,” Gelnovatch said. “I actually think we overachieved in terms of some of the results we got.”

WOMEN’S SOCCER: The spring is a crucial time for his program, head coach Steve Swanson said.

“There’s a lot of emphasis on individual development in the spring,” he said, “and there’s a lot of emphasis on collective understanding of our principles and the fundamental aspects of the game we try to drill in throughout the spring.”

Overall, his team’s progress this season “was exceptional,” Swanson said. “The reality was, though, that we didn’t have our whole team here.”

Injuries ravaged the Hoos in 2023, when they missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in Swanson’s 24 seasons leading the program, and several of those players were still rehabbing this spring.

“So that was hard,” Swanson said. “You’ve got this window of opportunity in the spring where you can experiment with things and you can develop, you can look at some different ways of playing, and we just didn’t have all our players available. And so from that standpoint, obviously that was one of our challenges. But overall I think the whole coaching staff was pleased with how far the players developed.”

Steve Swanson

The Cavaliers played five spring games, against Penn State, West Virginia, Duke, Liberty and the National Women’s Soccer League’s Washington Spirit.

“We played a very difficult schedule, and that was tough, especially with the amount of players that we had,” Swanson said. “We didn’t have a full squad almost every game.”

Even so, Swanson said, “I’m always a glass-full kind of guy, and I think the progress that the players that were consistently with us this spring made was tremendous, and they worked very hard. I think we’re in a really good place heading into the summer months with the emphasis on their individual development, their individual fitness, getting ready for the preseason.

“And the good news is, there were so many opportunities. All of our players that were available this spring got great minutes in the games. And so there was a lot of game experience and a lot of things that we can point to and go, ‘Here are things for you to work on in order for you to keep getting better, for us to keep getting better.’ ”

A talented group of players returned from last season, including Lia Godfrey, Maggie Cagle, Yuna McCormack, Jill Flammia, Samar Guidry and Laney Rouse, and the Hoos are likely to be back on solid footing this fall. Being short-handed hurt the Cavaliers this spring when they faced outside competition, but “I thought we acquitted ourselves very well in the games,” Swanson said.

“Even though we weren’t getting results, you could see the progress of the team. And I think that’s the most important thing for us, the development aspect. I think from that standpoint, so many players progressed, so many players developed, and so many players were put in situations where we could give them good feedback and they could learn. Hopefully that’s going to be help them during these summer months, where the focus is going to be strictly on them and their development until we get back together again as a team in the fall.”

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