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Gibbs sparks soccer team's offensive play

Can you remember what your dreams were when you were 10 years old? To be an astronaut? A politician, maybe? First-year Virginia forward Ryan Gibbs remembers, but for him, the dream already has arrived.

At the age of 10, Gibbs attended elementary school in Dumphries, Va., about an hour and a half outside of Charlottesville. Before moving to West Chester, Pa., where he went to high school, Gibbs and his family of soccer fanatics made periodic 100-mile trips to the University to watch Bruce Arena's team dominate the college ranks.

The Gibbs family gawked at world-class athletes competing on a field of mythical proportions, where only household names like Harkes, Meola, Olsen, Wood and Reyna were allowed to steal the spotlight from the highest deity of college soccer, Arena. The Gibbs family followed the team through five championships, the most dominating run in history, and Ryan Gibbs saw his wish for the future.

"I was amazed by the talent on the team," Gibbs said. "There were people on the bench with national team potential. I never thought I was good enough to play for Virginia, but I've never lost my goal. It's been a dream come true for me."

Today, the first year starts at forward for coach George Gelnovatch's Cavaliers, an impact newcomer who has already made highlight films with his blazing speed and eye-opening finishes. Even though he started only half of the team's games, Gibbs ranks fourth on the team in both goals and points, with three and seven respectively.

Take his play in Virginia's loss to Maryland two weeks ago, for example. Gibbs, then a reserve, wowed the hostile crowd with an acrobatic shot that showcased his immense potential. With the Terrpains holding a slim one-goal lead, Gibbs blew past his defender to the 18-yard box, but the defender shoved him and Gibbs lost his balance as the pass headed in his direction. Gibbs launched a scorching shot while stumbling to the ground, moments away from the goal. The Terps' keeper stood his ground and stopped the shot, but the Terrapins fans oohed and aahed in astonishment at Gibbs' athletic skills nonetheless.

He has started every game since.

Along with Gibbs, three other first years start for Virginia--Jonathan Cole at defender and Kyle Martino and Eric Solomon at midfield. Along with the four other first years on the squad, they comprise perhaps the most talented freshman soccer class in the country, and Gibbs, a tentative pre-law student, is their spokesman and most featured member.

His success, however, did not come without tears and toil. As the top player at West Chester East, Gibbs was criticized for not having the mental and physical skills to play at a national powerhouse. Despite being an All-American as a senior, a national team member for three years and a four time all-state player, critics told Gibbs he wasn't good enough to play at Virginia.

"In high school, everybody said I was overrated, that I didn't have good ball skills, and that I wouldn't make it onto the national team," Gibbs said. "I wanted to prove them wrong, so I worked really hard during the season and in the off-season in training.

"I wanted to have some pride that makes my family happy and makes my country happy," he said. "I love having people watch me play and say, 'Oh my God, he did this, and he did that.' I thrive on that. Every time I go out there, I want to be the best."

With the help of strength coach Derek Laing, Gibbs works off-season and during the season on ball skills, speed and strength. He already possesses sprinter speed -- he's never been timed, but is dangerously close to dashing past forward Sheldon Barnes for the honor of fastest player on the team -- to go along with a 5-11, 165-pound frame that probably could hold another 10 to 15 pounds of muscle.

Gibbs admits he's an ambitious person; He wants to play professional soccer. He wants to go to law school or become a successful businessman. He wants to win not just one, but two or three NCAA championships in his Virginia career. And he wants to become a leader on this young squad that is as ambitious and motivated as he is.

"He's really grown in the time he's been here," Gelnovatch said. "He's got a better understanding for how we play, how we want to play, and on top of that, his confidence has grown. His confidence is rising and he's a tremendous athlete -- a dangerous combination"