Women's soccer hosts High Point in NCAA First Round

Swanson and squad look to bounce back after 1-0 loss in ACC Championship

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Ever since the Virginia women’s soccer team arrived at spring camp more than seven months ago, the focus has been on getting back to the NCAA tournament and avenging last season’s heartbreaking College Cup loss to UCLA in penalty kicks. Throughout the regular season, the team spoke of ambitious postseason goals, while reiterating that the next game on the schedule would be the most important.

On Friday night, the fourth-ranked, second-seeded Cavaliers (18-2, 9-1 ACC) begin the journey to the national championship as Big South Champion High Point (12-4-4, 7-2-1 Big South) travels to Charlottesville for the first round of the 2015 64-team NCAA tournament. As a result of the Cavaliers' No. 2 seed, a win could be the first of three home games during the next two weeks for a team that has excelled in familiar environments.

“I think that’s definitely exciting,” senior midfielder Danielle Colaprico said. “We love being at home, Klöckner’s a great atmosphere and the fans bring that to us, and we love playing in front of our fans. They’re great, and I think the environment in and of itself is great.”

With the brevity of Virginia’s upcoming matchups, Klöckner is likely to be as loud as ever. A win Friday would move Virginia not only one step closer to a national championship, but also — as a result of the bracket — one step closer to a potential Elite Eight matchup against reigning NCAA champion UCLA, the team which knocked the Cavaliers out of last year’s College Cup.

“What matters is what’s right in front of you and my experience, and our players’ experience, says that you have to just focus on this game on Friday,” coach Steve Swanson said. “If you start thinking too far ahead, I just don’t think it’s conducive to being successful in the tournament, and I think we’ve got a number of players who understand that.”

Much as Virginia's success during the regular season did, the team's chances in the tournament will largely hinge on the upperclassman leaders’ abilities to rally the team and focus on the task at hand. Their experience in previous tournaments should help settle the newer players, for whom these NCAA games are the biggest stages they have played on thus far.

“Anytime you have experience in anything, it’s great,” senior forward Mary Morgan said. “You’ve been there before so you know what to expect and we know that we have to bring it every game, because it’s win or go home and you’re focused and not looking ahead, so I think that’s important.”

While the entire cast of upperclassman players is integral to the team’s success, Colaprico has stood in a league of her own. The ACC’s coaches recognized that, awarding her the ACC midfielder of the year award.

“I didn’t know that was an award,” Colaprico said. “When Steve told me I was kind of shocked, I didn’t expect it at all — but it was a great honor and, as I said before, it reflects how well our team has done, and I don’t think I would’ve gotten that award if our team hadn’t done this well this year.”

Left out of this year’s 64-team field is 4,000-student High Point University, which took home its fifth Big South Championship this Sunday, beating top-seeded Liberty on penalty kicks. The Panthers, who are riding an eight-game unbeaten streak, have not experienced much success in their previous NCAA tournament appearances, losing all four matchups to ACC opponents. But the Cavaliers have said they will not count any game as a win until the final whistle is blown.

“I think we have to take it one game at a time,” Colaprico said. “It doesn’t matter who is in our bracket, we’ve just got to beat every team to win a national championship and our main focus is on High Point this Friday.”

In addition to the tough opponent High Point presents — four Panthers players received all-Big South honors — Virginia will come off what may have been its worst performance of the season, a loss to Florida State in the ACC final. The Cavaliers were outshot for the first time all year and appeared to have taken a slight step back following their impressive ACC semifinal victory against fifth-ranked North Carolina just two days prior.

“We were disappointed last weekend coming off that loss to Florida State,” Swanson said. “There’s a lot of things we can take away from that and that’s what we’ve been focused on more than anything else. Coming back from that there were a lot of positives from the weekend and we got a great result on Friday against a great North Carolina team.”

Following the release of the bracket, it is clear it will take quite the run for Virginia to win a national championship. But their goal is not entirely out of reach. Last season’s run to the College Cup shows this team has potential for greatness — and its all-too-early exit in 2013 may just motivate players to bring home the program’s first-ever national championship.

Virginia’s first test in the NCAA tournament is Friday at Klöckner stadium at 7 p.m.

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