Women’s soccer takes on top team in the country

Cavaliers face UCLA for first time since 2015

sp-WSocIvory-RDizon

Freshman goalkeeper Laurel Ivory will look to help Virginia improve to 5-1 as they get set to take on No. 1 UCLA. 

Richard Dizon | Cavalier Daily

While the Cavaliers have already defeated preseason No.1 West Virginia earlier in the season, they now find themselves facing the new team at the top of the rankings as No. 1 UCLA prepares to travel to Charlottesville. 

The last time the two teams faced off was in 2015, and Virginia (4-1-0), who was the country’s top ranked team at the time, picked up a 2-1 win at UCLA (6-0-0).

This year, No. 8 Virginia enters the match after suffering an early loss in the season to an unranked Wisconsin team. 

Meanwhile, UCLA boasts a six-game undefeated streak. Leading the offense for the Bruins is junior forward Hailie Mace, who has five goals and two assists and was named last week’s Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week. Junior forward Julia Hernandez also has five goals, most recently scoring in UCLA’s last contest — a 2-0 win over Weber State.

Sophomore midfielder Jessie Fleming has also been an offensive weapon for the Bruins, collecting five assists and two goals so far. Fleming was UCLA’s leading scorer in her freshman season, earning NSCAA Third-Team All-American, First-team All-Pac-12 and First-team All-Freshman accolades. 

While the Cavaliers have only allowed two goals this season, the team knows the UCLA offense — who has picked up 20 goals in just six games — will make for a difficult task for the Virginia defense. 

“It’s going to take a lot of blocking shots,” freshman goalkeeper Laurel Ivory said. “It’s going to take a lot of recovery and just focusing on their transition, so defensive transition is going to be huge for us because they have speed, they have numbers and they fly forward so just staying cool and compact and ready for anything they give us.” 

Ivory, who was named last week’s ACC Defensive Player of the Week, has posted three clean sheets so far this year.

“Letting in two goals in four games isn’t bad, but we can do better,” Ivory said. “There were defensive breakdowns during that time and there were things to prevent those goals. So moving forward we want to keep that number as small as possible, and I think using that will really give us an identity as a defense.”

Offensively, freshman forward Taryn Torres leads the team with two goals. The Cavaliers have not scored more than two goals in a game this season, and most recently only managed to get one goal — despite taking 30 shots — against Richmond. However, the Cavaliers hope to learn from these offensive struggles. 

“We’re five games in, we’ve played some good competition already,” Coach Steve Swanson said. “The big thing is now, can you take what you’ve learned in these five games and put them into this next game.”

While the Cavaliers have already taken on some quality opponents this season, Swanson is expecting the match against UCLA to be different.

“A lot of these teams that we’ve played so far have set themselves up to disrupt us and defend us and look for the counter, and I think these two games will be much different,” Swanson said. “We’ll get a little more end-to-end game and there will be a little more space behind that we can hopefully exploit, but you’ve got two top five teams coming into Charlottesville and you’ve just got to take them one at a time.”

Part of the Cavaliers’ preparation for the game is not allowing UCLA’s ranking to intimidate them. Junior defender Brianna Westrup said Virginia is approaching the Bruins game just like any other.

“The same way we approach every game —we’ve got to obviously take into account what they do really well and what we can exploit and then we have to figure out how we’re going to use our system and impose it against them and just stay together as a team,” Westrup said. 

After Virginia and UCLA face off Thursday night at 7 p.m., the Cavaliers will stay in Charlottesville and host No. 5 Penn State Sunday. 

related stories