Nov. 15, 2012
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- In 2010, less than a year after winning the NCAA men's soccer championship, UVa bowed out in the tournament's first round with a loss at Klöckner Stadium. The same thing happened in 2011, a distressing turn of events for a program that has won six NCAA titles.
"That's not Virginia soccer," senior forward Will Bates said Thursday of the first-round exits.
"I try to stay away from using that term too often, because there's such a tradition here. But it's not Virginia soccer to lose in the first round, so that's a built-in pressure that we feel. And for me to experience it twice, after such having such a successful 2009, it's a bad feeling. It's a really bad feeling, and that was something I wanted to avoid again."
In 2009, Bates was the only freshman in the Cavaliers' starting lineup. Now he's their only senior starter, and he did his part Thursday afternoon to make sure the Wahoos will play more than once in his final NCAA tournament.
In the 88th minute of UVa's first-round game with Patriot League champion Lafayette at Klöckner, Bates headed in a corner kick by freshman Scott Thomsen to make it 1-0. The Leopards tried desperately to come up with the equalizer, with no success. The final horn triggered a mix of relief and joy among Virginia's players and coaches.
"Lafayette was really tough team to break down," head coach George Gelnovatch said. "I was happy with the second half, more than the first half, just in terms of being in their end more than they were in our end, and [about] finding a way at this important time of the year to get a goal, and who else but a guy who comes through in big moments like Will Bates?"
The goal was the 46th of his career for Bates, a three-time All-ACC selection. It came when the `Hoos appeared headed to overtime for the sixth consecutive game, and it capped a sequence in which Thomsen had three consecutive corner kicks.
The first was from the left corner. The second two were from the right side, which played to the strength of the left-footed Thomsen, who takes virtually all of UVa's free kicks.
"He puts a great ball in with his left foot," Bates said. "He gets a nice curve on it, it's got some pace, and it's pretty unpredictable for some of the guys that haven't seen it. Goalies don't know whether to come out or stay in the goal, and then defenders can get thrown off by the dip of the ball."
With overtime a possibility, Bates said, a corner kick is always welcome late in the second half.
"You get the corners, and you're like, `This is a great opportunity to end this game,' " Bates said. "And for me it's one burst of energy rather than going for another 10, 20 minutes.'
"I saw it as an opportunity for us, and we made the most of it."
Virginia (10-6-4) advances to face New Mexico (16-3-1), which is seeded No. 13 in the 48-team tournament. The teams will meet Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern in Albuquerque.
"Now I think the pressure's off of us," Bates said. "Here, we're expected to win, and out there we're not expected to win by anybody."
The Leopards finished 9-8-4. Gelnovatch said he warned his players that Lafayette was better than its record would indicate, but their lethargic first-half performance suggested they didn't take him seriously. The Leopards outshot (6-2) and outplayed the `Hoos in the first 45 minutes.
"It's human nature," Gelnovatch said, "and no matter what I say or do -- I can stand on my head, I can run around the field naked -- there's nothing you can do. It's not like playing ... a UNC, a Wake, like we've been playing, and it's not right. And I hope we learned our lesson a little bit, but I will also say that Lafayette was the biggest, strongest and in a lot of cases as athletic a team as we've played. Not great going forward, but very, very good and tough to break down."
The Leopards started nine upperclassmen -- five seniors and four juniors -- along with a freshman and a sophomore Thursday. Gelnovatch countered with six freshmen, three sophomores, a redshirt junior and Bates.
"I tell you what, in a game like this today, you could see a little of the young boy in us out there," Gelnovatch said, "but we found a way to get through it."
Among the underclassmen who started for UVa was freshman defender Zach Carroll. "We know we have a chance to do some pretty special things in the coming years," Carroll said.
Gelnovatch also is excited about the long-term potential of his young nucleus. But he's not ready to dismiss UVa's chances this year.
"Each game will bring something different, and today we found a way [to win in the first round]," Gelnovatch said, "as opposed to the past two years, and we did it with a much younger team. So for me, we're taking one game at a time, the future is now, but the longer we keep playing with this younger team, the better."
The team plans to fly to New Mexico on Friday.
"We're going to try to get out there as early as we can, and get ready," Gelnovatch said. "But the nice thing about these road trips and spending a couple days on the road is you tend to bond. We've been on the road a month, and because we've been successful on the road, we've been bonding, and we're looking forward to it."