Men's squad hosts home finale vs. Virginia Tech
No. 13 RPI ranking boosts young roster bracing for rival Hokies
The Virginia men’s soccer team looks to put the finishing touches on an encouraging week when it faces off against Virginia Tech at Klöckner Stadium Friday evening in the squad’s final home contest of the regular season.
The Cavaliers (7-6-1, 1-4 ACC) come off a 3-2 win against Wright State Tuesday that served as an important rebound from an embarrassing 4-1 loss to Wake Forest at home late last week. Virginia opened the game on form and came out aggressive, scoring all three of their goals in the first half. Although the Cavaliers were unable to increase their lead in the second, they managed to hold on for the crucial win.
“There were a lot of positives in that game, especially in the first half,” coach George Gelnovatch said. “We found a way to make sure that in the second half — even though we didn’t get a fourth goal — we were able to manage it and still get the win.”
Virginia received even better news at the beginning of the week when the season’s inaugural RPI rankings pegged the team at No. 13. This designation came as a surprise after the squad had not received any votes at any point this year in the weekly NSCAA Coaches Poll.
Though the Cavaliers are 1-4 in conference, they are the No. 2 ranked ACC team, according to the RPI. Maryland, which defeated Virginia 1-0 in College Park Oct. 5, is the nation’s top team. North Carolina is directly behind Virginia at No. 14 despite beating the Cavaliers 1-0 in a hotly contested match in Chapel Hill Sept. 21.
The Cavaliers’ six losses mark the most of any team in the RPI Top 25. Their high ranking is a reflection of their arduous schedule, widely regarded as the most difficult in the country. Of Virginia’s 14 opponents, 10 have been ranked at some point this season, including four — Georgetown, UCLA, North Carolina, and Maryland — currently among the nation’s top 10 teams.
The team’s trying schedule resulted from a calculated maneuver by Gelnovatch, now in his 17th year leading the program. Gelnovatch wanted to test what he has dubbed his “youngest team ever.”
“The whole idea behind this schedule was to play good games and play them early so that we can benefit from them at the end,” Gelnovatch said.
The victory against Wright State Tuesday put the Cavaliers back above .500 on the season, a key designation that both Gelnovatch and the players often mention as one of the team’s prime aims going forward.
“We need to finish .500 and this was just one of the four wins we need to do that,” freshman midfielder Marcus Salandy-Defour said after scoring his first collegiate goal in the win.
Friday’s contest against Virginia Tech (5-6-3, 0-4-1 ACC), the 84th ranked team according to the RPI, represents the first of three ACC clashes that will close out Virginia’s season, with trips to Boston College and N.C. State looming.
The Hokies’ flimsy defense should allow the Cavaliers an abundance of chances to score, as they have given up an astonishing 13.8 shots and 1.38 goals per game to opponents this season.
Virginia must capitalize on those chances, however, as Virginia Tech goalkeeper Kyle Renfro has corralled the interminable barrage of shots he’s faced this season. Renfro, who has a .759 save percentage, currently leads the ACC with 60 saves and a 4.54 saves per game total.
Cavalier senior forward Will Bates will pose the greatest threat to Renfro in goal, as Virginia’s tri-captain leads the ACC with nine goals despite consistently drawing aggressive attention from opposing defenses.
And now, with the ACC and NCAA Tournaments drawing near, the Cavaliers believe they are in prime position to reap the benefits from their demanding schedule.
“I think our schedule is starting to pay dividends,” Gelnovatch said. “We have three games left, and have a better feel for how this prepares us for down the road and hopefully the postseason.”