Men's soccer begins ACC tourney in Winston Salem
Team aims to avenge lopsided loss to Wake Forest
The sixth-seeded Virginia men’s soccer team will attempt to avenge its worst loss of the season when the squad visits third-seeded Wake Forest Tuesday for the first round of the ACC Tournament.
The Cavaliers (9-6-2, 3-4-1 ACC) fell 4-1 to the Demon Deacons (11-3-4, 4-1-3) in Charlottesville Oct. 12, their largest margin of defeat all year. Despite the score, coach George Gelnovatch maintained that his team played well. Gelnovatch said he believes there was “no chance” the teams’ October matchup should have been a 4-1 loss, saying that the run of play was more akin to a “one-goal game.” He expects to see a closer battle this time. He said he does not expect to change much in his game plan.
“I still think it was a pretty even game, even the statistics show that,” Gelnovatch said. “It got wacky in the score-line for a couple reasons, but we’re going to go out there and play them the same way.”
The Demon Deacons scored an easy goal late in the October meeting as Virginia pushed forward in a desperate attack to even the game. Wake Forest also capitalized on an ill-timed error and took the early lead following a misplayed pass by Virginia’s backline only five minutes into the game.
The goal was one of several the Cavaliers have given up this season because of inexperienced play. Gelnovatch said his young team has matured throughout the season and cut back on costly mistakes.
“Some of the young errors this season have basically cost us some games,” Gelnovatch said. “Going down the stretch, though, in these last four games, I think we’ve been much better with preventing some of those mistakes. I think it’s a result of growing up a little bit.”
Virginia has come a long way since that first meeting and enters Tuesday’s rematch holding a four-game unbeaten streak and ranked No. 15 in the newest RPI poll. During that stretch, Virginia tallied back-to-back home wins against Wright State and Virginia Tech — the latter a riveting come-from-behind victory in overtime — followed by a scoreless draw at Boston College.
Most recently the Cavaliers notched a remarkable 2-1 comeback win on the road against N.C. State in their regular season finale Thursday. Trailing in the second half, Virginia equalized on a penalty kick from senior forward Will Bates. The squad secured the improbable victory four minutes into the game’s second overtime period when freshman forward Darius Madison scored his second career goal.
The goal was Bates’ 11th this season. He enters postseason play tied for the most goals in the ACC. Bates has been the Cavaliers’ leading goal scorer in all four of his seasons at Virginia.
The Cavaliers have proven to be the “cardiac kids” this season, having several games decided in heart-pounding final moments. Although they are aware of the danger that comes from continually falling behind early in games, their impressive resume of comeback victories has engendered a level of confidence atypical for such an inexperienced team.
“When we get scored on first, nobody panics,” Gelnovatch said. “When you’re a young team, and you’re not used to that and you’re in the playoff part of your season, it can mess you up. But it’s happened to us, so if we do get scored on first, it’s not going to shake too many people up.”
Wake Forest comes into Thursday’s contest on a hot streak as well, having won four of its last five games. The Demon Deacons concluded their regular season last Thursday with a 4-2 win against then-No. 1 Maryland.
Wake Forest has been exceptional on its home field throughout the season, boasting an 8-1-1 mark at Spry Stadium. The Demon Deacons rely on a strong offensive attack. Their 2.06 goals per game ranks third in the ACC.
Wake Forest’s trio of potent goal scorers, sophomore Sean Okoli, junior Luca Gimenez and freshman Michael Gamble, spearhead a balanced attacking front. Okoli leads the team with 10 goals and 22 points, while Gimenez and Gamble trail narrowly behind in goals with seven and six respectively. They form a stable yet flexible attack that has been a handful this season for opposing defenses.
“They have three guys with interchanging parts,” Gelnovatch said. “They are a very fluid team and move the ball well and are very good in the attacking half.”
Gelnovatch said he “doesn’t know if there’s one particular thing to do to shut them down completely” but will focus on certain “player tendencies.” Gelnovatch said it will help that Wake Forest will be without “one of their best players” in junior captain Jared Watts. Watts was ruled out by the ACC after getting into an altercation in the team’s game against Maryland.
The Cavaliers’ spot in the NCAA tournament now seems secure. The squad believes everything is falling into place for a strong postseason run.
“I think we’re really progressing,” Bates said. “We’ve had a bumpy road along the way and a few errors and mistakes that we’ve learned from, but I think we’ve really come together as a team late in the season.”