SPORTS

Women's soccer ready for national title run

No. 3 Cavaliers hungry to repeat last season's success

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Though many things change from year to year, one thing has stayed the same for Cavalier fans: a continuously successful women’s soccer team.

After beginning last season ranked eighth in the nation, the Cavaliers powered their way through an undefeated regular season and won a program-record 24 games, garnering the No. 1 seed in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. The season ended in heartbreak, however, with the Cavaliers falling to UCLA in a penalty shootout in the national semifinals.

“Definitely disappointing after last season losing in the final four, so I think that’s a bit of motivation in and of itself for this team to realize that [a national championship is] reachable and that we can achieve that goal,” senior forward Danielle Colaprico said.

With the start of the 2014 season, Colaprico said the team is looking forward to the opportunity to reassert dominance at the top of the ACC and push for the program’s first-ever national championship.

“We got so far last year, but it’s a new year,” Colaprico said. “There’s a lot of new faces, and I think that we still have one goal in mind — and that’s to win a national championship. I think everyone on the team wants that.”

If last season’s bitter ending wasn’t motivation enough, the league’s 14 coaches selected reigning champion and National runner-up Florida State to repeat as ACC champions in the ACC’s first-ever coaches poll — passing over the regular season champion Cavaliers, who were picked to finish second.

Repeating as regular season champions could prove difficult, however, with Virginia set to play in one of the most challenging conferences in the nation — one which sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament last season.

“The ACC is such a tough conference, so every game is a big game,” junior forward Makenzy Doniak said. “The first step is to win our conference games, and then go to the tournament and do well in that.”

While replicating last year’s dream season may be challenging, Virginia returns much of its 2013 starting 11, highlighted by the three-headed offensive attack of Doniak, Colaprico and 2013 Soccer America player of the year Morgan Brian, a senior forward. These three combined for 41 goals and 33 assists last season, and don’t look to miss a beat coming into 2014 — Doniak, Colaprico and Brian were all placed on the 2014 MAC Hermann Trophy watch list. Virginia is the only team in the nation to have three players hold this honor.

Brian, who is also a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team, looks to be the undisputed team leader once again. While her long list of accolades, which further include the 2013 Hermann award, speaks volumes about her physical abilities, coach Steve Swanson said it is her attitude on and off the field which makes her such an invaluable member of the Virginia team.

“She solves problems for us out on the field — she knows where the ball has to be, and she has a great soccer brain,” Swanson said. “She makes the team better because she makes everyone around her better, and that’s a rare gift.”

Similarly, Doniak and Colaprico will step into more involved leadership roles. Doniak, who tied the Virginia single-season scoring record in 2013 with 20 goals, is now an upperclassmen and Colaprico, who was named the 2013 Virginia Nike Soccer Classic MVP, looks to emerge as a senior role model.

“It’s more [about] helping incoming players and people who might not have played as much in past years,” Colaprico said. “Being a senior now, I have to step up and be more of a leader on the field and not a follower.”

As if the Cavaliers’ offensive attack was not impressive enough already, the team added nine new members, including sophomore transfers Meghan Cox and Tina Iordanou, who each notched their first Cavalier goals in Virginia’s preseason exhibition against VCU. While many teams struggle with chemistry following new additions, the Cavaliers have shown a talent for quick integration thus far.

“The girls that are coming in just add to the team chemistry,” Doniak said. “I think that we can really go far this season, and we have the potential to play really good soccer.”

While the Virginia attack is receiving significant attention, the team’s defense is anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Morgan Stearns, who set school records last season for both starts and wins, and whose .66 Goals Against Average ranked fourth in the ACC. Now a sophomore, her experience on the U.S. Under-20 Women’s National Team will likely help her guide the Cavaliers toward national championship contention once again.

“She’s got all the physical tools and a great demeanor, and she’s going to be more of a leader,” Swanson said. “She has the ability to excel at this level and she has an idea of what she needs to do excel. The sky’s the limit for her.”

As the women’s soccer team takes the field at Klöckner Stadium this fall, fans will want to keep an eye on a high flying offensive attack led by three upperclassmen stars, strength off the bench from experienced sophomore transfers and hard-working freshmen and, finally, a highly motivated, close-knit team hungry for a national championship — propelled by the knowledge that this just might be its year.


Published August 20, 2014 in Sports



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