No. 1 Virginia hits road, hopes to find footing
BC, Pitt feature turf fields, force Cavs to adjust
The top-ranked Virginia women’s soccer team will hit the road for the first time this season when it travels to Newton, Mass. to take on conference foe Boston College Thursday. The squad will then fly to Pennsylvania to take on one of the newest additions to the ACC, Pittsburgh.
The Cavaliers (7-0, 1-0 ACC) dove into conference play last week when they trounced Syracuse 3-0. That type of score-line has been the norm for the high-octane Virginia offense, which is averaging 4 goals per game this season, while the defense has allowed on average less than one goal per game.
“We’re feeling pretty good,” junior midfielder Morgan Brian said. “We’ve won seven games and we’re playing pretty good soccer at this point in time. Hopefully we can keep jelling and keep putting things together so we can get some more wins.”
The opponents on Virginia’s schedule have hardly been tuneup games. The Cavaliers have handily defeated two top-10 teams in Penn State and Santa Clara already, and boast two tournament crowns on their impressive resume.
Conference play, however, signals a new season for Virginia. The ACC is arguably the most competitive conference in the nation from top-to-bottom, where every team can win any given night. Notre Dame personified this parity Sunday, when the Fighting Irish went to Chapel Hill to knock off then-No. 1 UNC 1-0.
Though wary of the threat the first road trip of the season carries, Virginia remains confident. The Cavaliers boast a veteran squad with plenty of travelling experience: their 25-athlete roster is comprised of 15 upperclassmen and just five freshmen.
“Most of these players are pretty experienced, so I’m not all that concerned,” Swanson said. “It’s more just a matter of making sure we’re rested going into the trip and taking care of ourselves during the trip.”
The game does, however, pose a unique threat to Virginia, as the team has never won a match in Newton. In fact, the Cavaliers have yet to score a goal when playing the Golden Eagles (4-3, 1-1 ACC) on their home turf.
“Boston College has been a big challenge for us,” Swanson said. “We haven’t won up there, it’s as simple as that.”
Though the hostile atmosphere of an away game will like rattle the team, the fact that the Golden Eagles play on AstroTurf represents a more pressing concern. The Cavaliers have played every game this season on the real grass at Klöckner Stadium, so the players must adapt to a new environment if they expect to snap their losing streak against Boston College.
“Turf makes the game a lot quicker and it makes the ball bounce a lot,” Brian said. “We like to keep the ball on the ground, so hopefully it won’t hurt us too badly. Obviously, we’re going to try to keep playing the way that we want to play.”
Luckily for the Cavaliers, they had the entire weekend off to begin preparations and combat any uncertainty. The squad spent the time training on the turf football practice field to gain a better understanding of how the ball reacts on a harder surface.
“It has been nice for us to have this full week,” Swanson said. “We’ve been able to get out on the turf and get used to it.”
Once Virginia is out on the pitch, it will have to deal with a solid Boston College squad pining for revenge after the Cavaliers cruised 5-1 last year in Charlottesville. This year, sophomore defender McKenzie Meehan has tallied six goals for the Golden Eagles to lead the offense. Unfortunately for Meehan and company, the Cavaliers have yet to allow double digit shots in a game this season, and they will look to suffocate any attacks or counters thrown at them to keep that statistic alive.
“It’s really important for us to get these wins, especially away from Klöckner,” Brian said. “Right now the biggest challenge we have ahead of us is just winning [at Boston College].”
The road trip will culminate Sunday when Virginia visits Pittsburgh (4-3-1, 0-2 ACC). The match will be the first ever meeting between these two teams, as the Panthers only officially entered the conference in July, and it too will require the Cavaliers to play on turf.
“We don’t know much about Pitt, but I’m sure they are going to be a good opponent,” Brian said.
Virginia’s showdown with the Golden Eagles is slated to begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, and kickoff for the Pitt match will be 1 p.m. Sunday.