​Women’s soccer hosts North Carolina Sunday

Mix of leadership, youth bodes well for Cavaliers


Senior midfielder Alexis Shaffer understands the responsibility she and the other seniors have to take on in order to mold this team into a true force.

Paul Burke | Cavalier Daily

The Virginia women’s soccer team is emerging this fall as one of the best squads in the nation. Early in the season, it has dominated the opposition time and time again.

But recently, the team has run into some bumps, losing at Miami and tying No. 3 Florida State. These are not necessarily bad results against quality opponents, but a team of Virginia’s caliber wants to win every game.

A major key to this team this season has been its infusion of youth. Virginia (8-2-1, 1-1-1 ACC) is an extremely young squad with a number of freshman phenoms who have stepped in and given this team a boost.

Senior midfielder Alexis Shaffer, one of the senior leaders for this team, understands the responsibility she and the other seniors have to take on in order to mold this team into a true force.

“Over the years I’ve grown a lot, so I have more experience now, which is extremely vital,” Shaffer said. “The girls on my field in the class strive to be voices on the field and guide them on the field. We have to be ready and at our best at all times. As a whole, my class comes together and really tries to support and provide positive feedback. We let the coaches coach, but we work to give them feedback and confidence.”

The freshman class includes a number of top recruits who have fit into coach Steve Swanson’s squad seamlessly. Clearly, both Swanson and the seniors have noticed the great work done by the freshmen, as evidenced by the amount of playing time the class has received.

“I think they have had a big impact and brought a lot of young energy,” Shaffer said. “They are definitely willing to work and are always ready to work as hard as possible.”

The seniors want to foster a mentoring relationship with the freshman. Seniors don’t want to be considered authority figures like coaches — they just want to help them grow and improve their game.

“It’s all about positive reinforcement,” Shaffer said. “We don’t want to coach them on the field. We want to give them as much confidence as possible”

Looking forward, the freshmen are set to be a pivotal variable in Virginia’s quest for a championship season. If they end up blossoming and thriving in their roles, the difference it could make to the Cavalier’s season is immeasurable.

There isn’t too much outside of giving them direction that the coaches and seniors can do. It is up to the freshmen to realize the opportunity they have and seize it.

“They definitely have some room to grow,” Shaffer said. “Coach has mentioned that there are a lot of things we can improve on, so I think looking at the big picture and simplifying their game. They need to just play their game they did in high school. We want them to be relaxed and not try to do too much on the field.”

As ACC play continues, the freshman will need to continue to grow, especially with a match against rival North Carolina this coming Sunday.

“We are trying to move forward and take our loss and tie positively and try to learn from it,” Shaffer said. “We really want to get a win to move up in ACC standing.”

In terms of strategy, the Cavaliers just want to continue to play their game. Especially in front of their home crowd, the Cavaliers are confident that if they execute their game plan successfully, they can beat any team in the country.

“First off, we want to keep the ball on the ground and use our width,” Shaffer said. “They’ll be a tough team, and will definitely come out to compete, so I think we need to be mentally and physically ready. I think we will be rested and very excited to play in front of our home crowd and on our home field. We hope to come out strong and get a win.”

Virginia’s match against North Carolina is scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday at Klöckner Stadium.

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