Fresh off a year that included a second round appearance in the NCAA Tournament, Virginia returns 14 letterwinners and nine players that tallied points from last year’s squad that finished with a 12-8-2 overall record. With two returning seniors in Matt Poole and Nino DiMaggio, a junior class that includes returning leading goal scorers Ross LaBauex, Neil Barlow and Matt Mitchell and a talented group of newcomers, head coach George Gelnovatch has confidence in his young squad.
“With 12 newcomers, we have a different look than in previous years,” Gelnovatch said. “I’m very excited about the talent level and the potential of the group, and our job will be to make sure the group comes together to perform well.”
The Cavaliers will have to deal with the loss of leading goal scorer and first team All-ACC selection Yannick Reyering, who finished with 13 goals in 2007.
LaBauex tallied seven goals last year, the most of any returning Cavalier. He also had four assists in a breakout season for UVa, while Mitchell contributed three goals and an assist. Gelnovatch expects LaBauex, Mitchell, Chase Neinken and Jonathan Villanueva to step up and provide offensive firepower to the forward positions.
“Yannick, who was a proven goal scorer and national player of the year candidate, is an offensive weapon we will miss,” Gelnovatch said. “What we have now is the potential to have two or three guys score eight or nine goals instead of one guy who scores the majority of your goals. Yes, we will miss Yannick in a lot of ways, but hopefully it will open the door for players like Matt Mitchell, Ross LaBauex, Chase Neinken and newcomers like Chris Agorsor and Brian Ownby to pick up the slack, which makes you a better team.”
Agorsor joins the Cavaliers after being heralded as the Gatorade and National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) National High School Player of the Year following his senior prep season at McDonough High School in Severn, Md. Ownby, meanwhile, was tabbed the Virginia State Player of the Year by the Virginia High School Coaches Association after starring for Deep Run High School.
Returning in the midfield for UVa are familiar faces in Barlow, who played primarily in the back last season but will most likely return to his natural midfielder position, Poole, T.J. Cyrus and Villanueva.
Barlow finished with three goals and five assists last season, while Villanueva contributed two goals and six assists. Poole and Cyrus who played in the back in the fall, primarily played in the midfield in the Spring 2008.
“There’s a lot of good pieces in the midfield, some that are inexperienced and young, but what we need to do is put the right pieces together,” Gelnovatch said. “This may be our youngest team since 1999, so we’re going to need patience and figure out how to mesh together.”
First-years Tony Tchani, Sean Hiller and Christian McLaughlin, redshirt freshman Jimmy Simpson and transfers Matt Weiler (Kentucky) and Jordan Evans (Richmond) should factor into the midfield positions as well.
Defensively, the Cavaliers expect to have a fresh look from last season in nearly every position. Transfer Mike Volk (Rutgers), Robby Rogers (who sat out last season but returns to the team this year), Karter Smith, Howard Turk, Shawn Barry and Hunter Jumper all add depth to the backfield and will compete for positions.
“Our entire back four is going to be new,” Gelnovatch said. “There are a lot of guys that we will be looking at to fill those important positions and it will be one of the first things we address in the preseason.”
The Cavaliers return two goalkeepers with experience in junior Michael Giallombardo and sophomore Dan Louisignau. Giallombardo started 15 games and allowed 22 goals while ranking in the top five in the ACC in saves per game (3.73) and shutouts (five).
Louisignau, meanwhile, saw action in seven games and started six, including each of the Cavaliers’ postseason matches. He tallied 13 saves, a 4-2-0 record and 1.03 goals-against average.
“We have an experienced guy who has played a lot of minutes for us in Giallombardo and a talented guy who played well but didn’t see a lot of minutes in Louisignau,” Gelnovatch said. “They will be in a healthy, competitive environment fighting for a starting position and that will make them better and us better.”
Highlighting this year’s schedule is the Virginia Soccer Classic, a two-day event featuring some of the elite soccer programs in the nation. The Cavaliers welcome SMU, St. John’s and Old Dominion to Klckner Stadium on the opening weekend of the regular season (Aug. 29 and 31). Sandwiched in between the football team’s opening game against Southern California on Aug. 30, the tournament could draw a record number of Cavalier fans.
Other non-conference match-ups include at George Mason (Sept. 5), Hofstra (Sept. 7), at VCU (Sept. 13), Central Connecticut State (Sept. 23), Liberty (Oct. 7) and Longwood (Oct. 21).
The perennially tough ACC schedule kicks off with a home game vs. NC State on Sept. 19, and conference tilts continue at Virginia Tech (Sept. 26), at North Carolina (Oct. 3), vs. Clemson (Oct. 10), at Boston College (Oct. 17), at Duke (Oct. 25) and at home vs. Maryland (Oct. 31) and Wake Forest (Nov. 7).
The ACC Tournament will be held Nov. 12-16 in Cary, N.C.