Dec. 5, 2013
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Some 200 miles will separate UVa's soccer teams Friday night. The Virginia women will be in Cary, N.C., and the men in Charlottesville.
But distance won't weaken the bond between programs that have already reached one milestone together. Virginia is the only Division I school to make the NCAA quarterfinals in both men's and women's soccer this season.
"We both pull for each other and both support each other, so it's a special thing, for sure," sophomore forward Makenzy Doniak said.
"I think it's a good reflection of soccer here at Virginia," women's coach Steve Swanson said. "It's a good reflection of the support that both programs get from the University, and I think it also speaks to the kind of community we live in here."
By 9:30 p.m. Friday, Virginia hopes to hold another distinction: the only school to reach the College Cup in both sports.
At 7 p.m., UVa (12-5-5) hosts Connecticut (12-2-8) in an NCAA men's quarterfinal at Klöckner Stadium. The winner advances to next weekend's College Cup at PPL Park in Chester, Pa., outside Philadelphia.
At approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday, Virginia (24-1) takes on UCLA (21-1-2) in the second NCAA women's semifinal at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. The winner moves on to meet Florida State or Virginia Tech for the NCAA title Sunday afternoon.
UVa was awarded the No. 8 seed in the 48-team NCAA men's field. In the 64-team women's tourney, Virginia earned the No. 1 overall seed. (The other No. 1 seeds were also from the ACC: North Carolina, FSU and Virginia Tech.)
From afar, each group of Cavaliers will be pulling for the other Friday night.
"In the soccer world, the soccer community, which is relatively small, I think both teams doing well can only be good for both programs and the University as a whole," said Swanson, who's in his 14th season at UVa.
For the Virginia women, this is their first appearance in the NCAA semifinals since 1991 and only the second in program history. UCLA is in its first season under head coach Amanda Cromwell, a captain on that 1991 UVa team.
"I'm definitely proud of them for making the Final Four," Cromwell told reporters Thursday in Cary. "It's been quite a long time."
Not so for UCLA, which is making its ninth trip to the College Cup (and first since 2009). The Bruins, however, are still seeking their first NCAA title in this sport. UCLA booked its trip to Cary by ousting defending NCAA champion UNC 1-0 in double overtime last weekend in Chapel Hill.
"On paper you're getting, in my opinion, a great match-up and, I think, a great advertisement for college women's soccer," Swanson said Thursday in Cary.
UCLA has outscored opponents 49-7 this season. The Bruins haven't allowed a goal in their past four games.
"Watching them play on Saturday, we saw a lot of good things from them," UVa midfielder Morgan Brian said. "They have a lot of great players. I think every single one of them, at least in their starting lineup, has had national-team experience. They keep the ball very well. They have a great midfield. They have a lot of threats up top, so I think this is going to be one of the best college soccer games all year."
Brian, a junior who has earned three caps for the U.S. national team, and Doniak are among the 15 semifinalists for the Hermann Trophy, awarded annually to the top players in men's and women's college soccer, respectively. Virginia is the only school to have more than one women's semifinalist.
Doniak leads the Wahoos with 19 goals and also has six assists. Brian leads the team in scoring with 46 points, on 16 goals and 14 assists.
"This year we've been kind of special together," Brian said. "I think she's assisted a lot of the goals I've scored on, and I think I've assisted her in a lot of ways. So we complement each other, and I think last year we didn't really have that chemistry as well. I think this year we've kind of bloomed together, and that's what's made this offense go this year."
WakeMed Soccer Park is a venue the `Hoos know well. They won the ACC title there in 2012. It's also where they suffered their only loss this season, falling 4-2 to Virginia Tech in the ACC tournament semifinals Nov. 8.
"I think playing on that field just gives us more of a comfort level," Brian said.
UVa played a grueling regular-season schedule, and Swanson hopes that continues to pay dividends for his team this weekend.
"I think the non-conference season has prepared us for the conference season," he said. "I think the conference season has prepared us for postseason. And hopefully all of this, cumulatively, has prepared us for the College Cup. I think we're excited about the game coming up on Friday, and I think UCLA's a very good team, and we'll have to play well to win. But we've had to do that throughout the year, and I think we can take confidence in that. We're playing on a field that we know well. We're playing in an environment that we're familiar with, so these are all positives for us."
Doniak, who's from Chino Hills, Calif., seriously considered UCLA before picking UVa. To say she's happy with her choice would be an understatement.
"Steve is a great coach," she said. "The whole coaching staff is just awesome, and I think something about this team this year is really special. It's within reach, winning a national championship, and I think this is the year to do it."
UVa has never won an NCAA title in women's soccer. The men have been crowned NCAA champions six times, most recently in 2009.
The Virginia men are in their 18th season under George Gelnovatch. The soccer offices are near each other in the McCue Center, and when their sons were younger Swanson and Gelnovatch coached together in youth soccer.
"I think there was a spell of maybe five years there where we would go from the college soccer field to the youth soccer field and be spending a lot of weekends together," Swanson said. "That was fun and enjoyable, and it was good to coach alongside each other there and hear each other's philosophies and those kind of things."
Swanson smiled. "You get down to the brass tacks when you coach youth soccer. You get down to the real fundamentals. So that was a good thing. I think we found out a lot about each other."
For a while Sunday night, the UVa men figured their next opponent would be UCLA, too. In a third-round game in Los Angeles, the top-seeded Bruins scored two early goals on UConn. But the Huskies pulled to 2-2 and then, after giving up another goal in the second half, to 3-3.
Listening in Charlottesville to an online radio broadcast of the game were UVa players, including sophomore forward Darius Madison. Gelnovatch was following the game at home on his laptop.
Virginia defeated Marquette 3-1 in a third-round game Sunday afternoon at Klöckner. Had UCLA won that night, the `Hoos would have had to travel to the West Coast for the quarterfinal round.
"I didn't turn it on the computer until about 15 minutes into the game," Gelnovatch said. "I saw it was 2-0, and I started looking at flights, started going online and checking into the logistics of how we were going to do this thing."
It never came to that, of course. The teams ended regulation tied 3-3 and headed to overtime. Two extra periods passed with no score, and so the teams went to penalty kicks. The Huskies prevailed, which meant the `Hoos, to their delight, would get one final home game this season.
"It's awesome just to play another game at Klöckner," Madison said, "and to play an Elite Eight game at home. One of our goals this season was to make Klöckner a fortress, and we plan to do that this Friday."
Nothing against sunny California, especially in December, but Gelnovatch said playing at home helps both UVa's players and staff.
"It's two things," he said. "One, it's your fans, your field, all those things. But the thing with traveling is, it's not even so much the flight. It's the logistics: planning the meals and the bus and the practice times, coordinating three meals a day for these guys, figuring out where we're going. And they're in the middle of a tough time of school. The logistical part of that thing is draining. Again, it's not the four-hour flight or four-and-a-half-hour flight, it's all the other things that go into it. So from that standpoint, it's helped us a lot."
A victory over UConn would send Virginia to the College Cup for the first time since 2009. Madison, a second-team All-ACC selection, is from Philly, and he's played at the home of Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union.
"When I found out the news that the College Cup would be at PPL Park, that was a goal of mine that I set, to get back to PPL," said Madison, UVa's second-leading scorer. "That would be awesome, just to have all my family and friends come out to watch me and support me."
Virginia started slowly this season, dropping three of its first four games, a stretch that included road losses to Clemson and Wake Forest. Gelnovatch wasn't pleased that his team was 1-3, but he didn't panic.
"We were the only team in the conference to have our first two [ACC] games on the road, against two pretty good teams," he said. "They were both top-4 in the ACC, and we still hadn't completely figured ourselves out."
However, Gelnovatch acknowledged this week, "I did at one point -- and it might have been right about at 1-3 -- say to my staff, looking at the rest of our schedule, `This is going to be a knife fight, to get into the playoffs. This thing can go a lot of different ways, and we gotta make sure every game we're concentrated and ready.' "
UVa has rarely lost focus since the Sept. 13 loss at Wake. The Cavaliers improved to 2-3 by routing then-No. 23 George Mason four nights later, starting an unbeaten streak that didn't end until they lost Nov. 1 to North Carolina.
A team evolves over the course of a season, Gelnovatch noted, and "it can evolve in different ways. There are teams that [make the NCAA tournament] that have leveled off and are going the wrong way. I just think that this team has all along been going in this direction and has just gained confidence. They're still young. They're still learning."
The `Hoos start only one senior, defender Kevin McBride. Underclassmen who have made significant contributions this season include sophomores Madison, Todd Wharton, Scott Thomsen, Zach Carroll, Brian James and Marcus Salandy-Defour, and freshmen Jordan Allen, Patrick Foss, Nicko Corriveau and Riggs Lennon.
Gelnovatch typically starts four juniors: Matt Brown, Eric Bird, Kyler Sullivan and Calle Brown. (Matt Brown must sit out the UConn game after getting red-carded against Marquette.)
"I don't think I said this publicly, but I felt like that this group would be a College Cup team next year and the year after," Gelnovatch said. "They're in a great position for the next two years. I actually think we're a little bit ahead of schedule to some extent, especially if we make the College Cup."