Virginia hosts No. 24 Xavier
Fresh off two encouraging triumphs, young roster craves more against upstart Musketeers
Success is self-perpetuating. At least that’s what the Virginia men’s soccer team — currently on a two-game winning streak — is hoping as it approaches Friday night’s home showdown against No. 24 Xavier.
The Cavaliers (3-2-0, 1-0-0 ACC) chose to challenge themselves with their early season schedule, opening with four consecutive games against opponents ranked at some point this year. After splitting those contests in nail-biting fashion, Virginia was able to secure an atypically easy win Tuesday in a 6-1 trouncing of Mount St. Mary’s at home.
Although the scoring barrage gave the team some added self-assurance, Virginia’s veteran leaders are making sure the success doesn’t go to their heads.
“It’s a fine line between getting overconfident and being on edge all the time,” senior tri-captain Will Bates said. “But it’s good to get a few goals.”
Bates, in recovery from a knee injury suffered last year, punctuated his first start of the season Tuesday by tallying a hat trick after just 37 minutes of action. Although the forward is not yet ready to play a whole game, he looks healthier each time he gets on the pitch.
“I think he’s getting there,” head coach George Gelnovatch said. “I still don’t think he’s 90 minutes fit yet, just a little bit of form, a little bit of touch here and there. I think he’s getting closer and closer every game.”
But Bates said his performance Tuesday can only be a good sign.
“To come back and to start scoring goals is kind of reassuring just to yourself as a forward,” Bates said. “That’s what you’re out there to do.”
Virginia will need Bates to take another step in his improvement on Friday. The Musketeers (4-0-1) opened their season with a five-game winning streak for the first time in program history and come off a 3-1 win against Milwaukee, a victory that resulted in their ascension into the nation’s Top 25.
In contrast to the Cavaliers — who have started at least nine underclassmen, including five freshmen, in each of their first five games — Xavier is primarily made up of veterans. Led by senior forward Luke Spencer, the Musketeers’ returning players accounted for 26 of the 31 goals that they scored a season ago en route to their second consecutive Atlantic 10 Championship and NCAA Championship appearance.
Spencer, who tallied seven goals and six assists last season, is charging head-on into 2012. Already with 14 points this season, including six goals, the reigning Atlantic 10 Player of the Week should prove a challenge for the stout Virginia defense.
Luckily for the Cavaliers, though, Gelnovatch was able to give his starters some time to rest in the second half of Tuesday’s lopsided win against the Mount. Virginia is hoping the extra respite will prove beneficial when they are facing off against a lethal Xavier attack that has scored three goals in back-to-back matches for the first time since 2003.
“[The rest] is huge,” Bates said. “It will give us the ability to recover [Wednesday] and then get back into training and then look forward to Friday.”
The players believe their taxing early season schedule has steeled them for the challenges ahead.
“Absolutely [it helps],” Bates said. “I think for some of the young guys, after seeing teams like UCLA and Duke, they understand we can now play with any team in the country. I think it’s an important thing for those guys just to understand that.”
The Cavaliers aim to parlay their newfound poise into the prolongation of their winning ways Friday night.
“Nobody is going to outplay us, and we’re going to have our chances,” Bates said. “That’s big going into Xavier.”