Streaking No. 7 Cavs face stiff tests this weekend
Currently riding 10-game unbeaten streak, team set to play ACC standouts Maryland, No. 4 Duke
The No. 9 Virginia women’s soccer team is preparing for two grueling conference games this weekend. First, the Cavaliers (9-1-1, 2-0-1 ACC) go on the road Thursday night to challenge ACC-leading No. 18 Maryland. Virginia then returns to Klöckner Stadium Sunday to face off against No. 5 Duke.
“Any game in the ACC at this point is pretty big,” sophomore midfielder Morgan Brian said. “Maryland is undefeated in the ACC, and Duke is one of our biggest rivals, so we’re just excited to play them this week.”
Their last time out, the Cavaliers outlasted Clemson on the road to earn a riveting 1-0 win. Senior forward Erica Hollenberg netted the decisive goal from six yards out in the 81st minute of regulation, helping extend Virginia’s unbeaten streak to 10 games.
The Cavaliers struggled early against Clemson’s defensive-orientated strategy of packing as many players as possible behind the ball. But the squad eventually wore down the Tigers by attrition and proved that coach Steve Swanson’s players can cope with multiple styles of play.
“I think Clemson was difficult,” Swanson said. “They put a lot of players behind the ball. It’s not easy when you’ve played two pretty wide open games in the ACC, then face a team that’s doing something different tactically.”
Thursday’s game against Maryland (7-2-2, 3-0-1 ACC) should feature a much different feel, as the Cavaliers and the Terrapins average 2.73 and 2.09 goals per game, respectively.
“Hopefully, the defense will open up and there will be more space,” Brian said.
A win Thursday would net Virginia three points and would vault the team ahead of Maryland in the ACC standings. The Cavaliers expect intense resistance from Maryland and its attacking prowess, however, and will have to play more efficiently on the ball. Redshirt senior midfielder Becky Kaplan and junior forward Hayley Brock pose particularly potent offensive threats, accounting for 15 of the Terrapins’ 23 goals so far this season. Brock just earned her second consecutive ACC Player of the Week award.
“I think our team is experienced enough to know that, in the game against Maryland, we’re going to have to have a great effort,” Swanson said. “We’re going to have to have a lot of energy, and play smart, and try to implement our style on the game to win.”
The Cavaliers will only have a marginal amount of time to recuperate before they play Duke (7-2-1, 1-1-1 ACC) at home three days later.
The Blue Devils’ pedestrian conference record belies their talent. Duke is one of the elite programs in women’s soccer and an offensive juggernaut that averages 3.40 goals per game. Virginia will need to capitalize on every scoring chance possible to keep up with such a prolific offense, one paced by the dual scoring threats of junior forward Laura Weinberg and redshirt junior defender Kim DeCesare. Of their 16 shots against Clemson, the Cavaliers only hit the target nine times. Swanson said the team’s performance in front of goal last weekend was not indicative of its goal-scoring ability.
“It’s not so much the shots, it’s the quality chances, and I think we had some legitimate quality chances,” Swanson said.
Virginia’s next two games will showcase the depth and overall talent that have long defined the ACC. The two contests also will have an enormous impact on the conference standings and may play a deciding role in who enters the conference tournament as the top seed.
“We know the challenges are ahead, and I think we’re excited for that,” Swanson said. “[Maryland and Duke] are doing well in the conference so far, and we’ve always had great games with them, so we’re looking forward to it.”
The Maryland matchup will kick off at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Duke game is slated to begin at 2 p.m. Sunday.