No. 4 Women's soccer advances to NCAA second round

Cavaliers drub High Point, 8-0

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Friday night — in what seemed like the blink of an eye — the fourth-ranked Virginia women’s soccer team alleviated worries that its chances in the national championship were in jeopardy, as the team demonstrated its readiness to make a deep run in this year’s NCAA tournament.

Playing in near-freezing temperatures, the Cavaliers (19-2) got hot early, tallying three goals in the first 12 minutes and two more in the span of 40 seconds in the 27th minute. The goals led to an 8-0 drubbing of unseeded High Point (12-5-4), a team that snuck into the tournament after beating Liberty in the Big South final on penalty kicks.

“Sometimes with teams like this in the NCAA tournament, the way they play you, it’s hard to score goals,” senior midfielder Morgan Brian said. “For us to get a lot of goals in the first half like we did, it’s a credit to our finishing, which is something I think we’re getting better at.”

Sophomore defender Kristen McNabb got on the board first in the sixth minute, when she tapped in a goal in front of net, assisted by Brian off ACC Midfielder of the year Danielle Colaprico’s corner. Four minutes later, one of Virginia’s top talents, junior forward Brittany Ratcliffe, knocked in a cross from 10 yards out off Brian’s second assist of the game. The dynamic offensive tandem of Ratcliffe and fellow junior forward Makenzy Doniak continued its dominance early on, as Doniak converted her team-leading 15th goal of the season, off yet another Brian assist.

“She’s been in great form for a while now,” coach Steve Swanson said. “I thought that even when she was away, she was playing awfully well for the national team, … [and] she’s playing some great soccer right now, and we couldn’t have asked for it at a better time.”

Fifteen minutes later, Virginia was still not finished scoring for the first half. After a chaotic passage of play in the box, the ball fell to sophomore forward Morgan Reuther, who calmly put away her sixth goal of the season, giving Virginia an even more commanding lead.

Just seconds later, the Cavaliers were bearing down on the Panther goal once again. Virginia’s all-time NCAA tournament scoring leader, Brian, found Reuther in front for the sophomore’s second goal of the game and the senior’s fourth assist.

“I think we’ve gotten faster,” Reuther said. “We’re getting to know each other better; we’re making better runs, and I think each game we try to come out better than the last and I think tonight we did that.”

While the Cavaliers’ five goals marked the first time they had achieved such a feat in one half since 2011, the second-seeded ACC runner-ups were hungry for more. Brian, who set up her teammates throughout the first half, knocked in a weak clearance from the High Point defense for her ninth NCAA tournament goal, pushing the Cavalier advantage to six in the 33rd minute.

“Morgan Brian is the best college player I’ve seen play,” Panthers coach Marty Beall said. “She’s world class and that’s why she’s on the national team. She reads the game at such a high level and she reads the defenses and knows where to be around the ball and knows how to find her players. It’s hard to beat.”

Throughout the first half, and the game as a whole, Virginia did not look like the same team that dropped its ACC final matchup just a short five days earlier. Instead, the Cavaliers looked poised, calm and downright dominant in a tricky NCAA tournament game played in adverse conditions that certainly affected play.

“Sometimes the cold weather is a good thing because you have to move to stay warm,” Swanson said. “I think there are teams that wouldn’t perform in a game like this and I thought it was a good sign that we performed well and we made it an easier game. It’s not always going to be like that but we’ve got make sure that we focus on what’s important for us for the next game.”

Just after Brian’s seventh goal of the season — in a passage of play that felt too good to be true — Brian found Reuther on a through ball that the dynamic sophomore forward easily put away to complete her hat trick and push Brian’s assist total for the game to five — a Cavalier program record and a tie for the NCAA tournament single-game record.

“I think it shows that our mentality is still there,” Reuther said. “That the Florida State loss didn’t change that, if anything it made us play harder and stronger to try and win the whole thing.”

In addition to the goals, the Cavaliers filled up the stat sheet in numerous notable categories. They tied a program record with 39 shots, tallied 16 corners, scored the most goals in an NCAA tournament game in school history and extended their home winning streak to 30, the longest active streak in the nation and the eighth-longest in NCAA history.

“My hat’s off to them,” Beall said. “They’re probably the best college team I’ve ever seen play. Their play on the ball is world class. Their pace, their movement off the ball is phenomenal. The biggest difference is their pace individually as players and their movement both on and off the ball. A couple of those goals were unlucky goals on our part, poor clearances, but that doesn’t take anything away from how good they are.”

Many of the 601 fans in attendance left Klöckner Stadium by halftime, but there was still more game to be played. In the second half, Virginia’s depth was on full display. Redshirt freshman midfielder Tori Hanway intercepted a mis-hit clearance at the top of the box in the 64th minute and curled a shot into the far post for her first career goal and Virginia’s eighth of the night, firmly putting to rest any lingering effects after last weekend’s loss against Florida State.

“We had a meeting a couple nights ago as a team just to reiterate our focus and revert back to that game,” Brian said. “It definitely motivated us, and that game was frustrating on our end, but if we do those things like we did tonight then we’ll be all right.”

Virginia will look to build on its impressive display this weekend, when the team hosts Rutgers Friday night in its second-round tournament matchup.

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