Cavs prep for Deacons, try to stay on track for postseason play
31-year NCAA Tournament streak is in jeopardy for Gelnovatch, young squad
The road to the postseason remains arduous for the Virginia men’s soccer team. Friday night the squad squares off against yet another nationally ranked opponent — ACC rival No. 18 Wake Forest.
The contest marks the 10th game this season in which the Cavaliers (6-5-1, 1-3-0 ACC) have faced a ranked opponent, with the squad posting a respectable 4-4-1 record in those matches so far. Virginia’s uncompromising schedule has put the team in a class of its own.
“It’s public knowledge, we’ve played the toughest schedule of any Division 1 college soccer team,” coach George Gelnovatch said. “We have no slouches that we’re playing.”
The Cavaliers find themselves looking forward to postseason play as they enter the final third of their regular season. Virginia has reached the NCAA for 31 years in a row — the longest streak in Division I soccer — and has hosted at least one game in the tournament each of those years.
Now, with one of the youngest rosters in program history — the Cavaliers have only one senior and 80.4 percent of the team’s total minutes this year have been filled by underclassmen — neither of those streaks are guaranteed to continue.
Virginia did pick up a 2-1 home win Tuesday against previously undefeated No. 23 High Point in a nailbiter that came down to the game’s final minutes. Senior forward Will Bates buried a penalty kick in the 89th minute with veteran coolness to earn Virginia the exhilarating victory.
After a Sept. 28 2-0 loss to Clemson and a 1-0 defeat at No. 1 Maryland, Tuesday’s win was crucial for the Cavaliers heading into the home stretch of the 2012 campaign.
“It’s a huge win,” Bates said. “Especially after the past results we’ve had in these recent games and getting a win against a ranked opponent. It’s great going into Wake Forest.”
Friday’s matchup with the Demon Deacons (7-2-4, 1-1-3 ACC) marks the second of a four-game homestand for Virginia before the squad closes the regular season with in-conference road games at Virginia Tech, Boston College and N.C. State.
Wake Forest presents a balanced attack on offense with five players tallying at least two goals each. Leading the way for the Demon Deacons is junior Luca Gimenez. An aggressive attacking midfielder born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Gimenez was named ACC Co-Player of the Week after recording his first career hat trick against Virginia Tech Sept. 28 and currently leads Wake Forest in goals and total points with five and 12, respectively.
The Cavaliers know how formidable an opposing force Wake Forest will present, but the team by now has had its fair share of experience playing against the nation’s best.
“I think High Point was an ACC quality team,” Gelnovatch said. “Playing this game, playing Maryland [last] Friday night, all these [games] prepare you … so we should be able to step on the field and it’s business as usual.”
Historically, Virginia has dominated the Demon Deacons, compiling a 35-8-6 record in the all-time series. The two teams split their two games last season, however, with the Cavaliers losing the first game 4-3 despite Bates recording a hat trick and then avenging the loss in a 4-3 double-overtime thriller in the ACC tournament quarterfinals.
Bates — whose two goals in Tuesday’s game brought his career total to 41, good for eighth place in Cavalier history — is the only senior remaining on the team after fellow captain Ari Dimas was ruled ineligible last month. Bates is the unquestioned leader of the overwhelmingly young squad. Though the Cavaliers have mustered only 1.33 goals per game this season, Bates has regularly been able to find the back of the net, scoring seven goals so far this season. Following him are two teammates tied with two goals apiece: freshman defender Zach Carroll and sophomore forward Chris Somerville.
Friday’s game, like all conference games, will prove crucial for ACC Tournament seeding and, consequently, the squad’s chances of continuing its legendary NCAA streak.
“Everyone’s going to try to get three points, especially in the conference,” Bates said. “Come ACC Tournament time, being that 8 or 9 seed is the most difficult way to get into the tournament.”
With swarms of graduated students and former Virginia players expected to return to Charlottesville for Homecomings weekend, the stage is set for a classic ACC showdown.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Bates said. “Hopefully we can put a good on a good show for the fans here for Alumni Weekend and really get things going here.”