Thanks to an impressive season-ending run -- which culminated with a hard-fought triple overtime loss to No. 1 Duke in the ACC Tournament final -- the surging No. 14 Virginia men's soccer team starts its pursuit of the NCAA College Cup this weekend as the sixth seed in the tournament.
As the sixth seed, the Cavaliers are guaranteed of playing their first two tournament games at home -- provided they advance past the first round -- before a third-round contest that will decide which team from the Cavs' bracket advances to the College Cup at Ericsson Stadium in Charlotte, N.C.
The College Cup, like NCAA basketball's Final Four, pits the remaining four teams in the single-elimination tournament against one another at a common site over three days.
Before the Cavs can pack their bags for Charlotte, though, they will need to jump over a trio of formidable squads. In its first round match, Virginia (12-8-1) will host Princeton, the Ivy League champion, (11-4-2) in a 1 p.m. kick-off at Klöckner Stadium on Sunday. If they can overcome the Tigers, Coach George Gelnovatch's Cavaliers will welcome the winner of the Brown-Rhode Island game next weekend.
"If we play like [we did against Duke] we're going to go places in the tournament," Gelnovatch said. "That's for sure."
Virginia was honored with the their high seeding despite finishing the season with eight losses, more than any other squad in the 32-team tournament. The Cavs impressed the NCAA selection committee, though, with a late-season flourish that included victories over No. 9 Maryland and No. 10 Wake Forest before the 129-minute nailbiter against Duke, the top seed in the upcoming tournament.
"We didn't come out of the regular season with the record we wanted," first-year midfielder Kyle Martino said. "But I think we ended with the style of play that we wanted. I think we showed how the University of Virginia can play on any given day."
Martino, who was named ACC Rookie of the Year and first-team All-ACC after the regular season, played spectacularly in the Cavs' ACC run and was tabbed for the All-Tournament team after scoring the team's lone goal in its 2-1 loss to the Blue Devils in the final.
Third-year midfielder Ryan Trout, though, was Virginia's most dangerous threat last weekend. The All-Tournament selection redeemed himself for not scoring any goals against the Conference during the regular season by exploding for three goals in two days versus the Terps and Deacons.
Trout said the team is peaking as it enters its 54th NCAA Tournament.
"We had one of the toughest schedules in the country," he said. "One thing we proved [in the ACC Tournament] is that we can beat any team in the country."
Joining the Cavaliers in the tournament are four other ACC teams -- Duke, Wake Forest, Maryland and North Carolina -- making the nine-team Conference the most represented in the NCAA field. The Tournament bracket allows for four ACC teams to advance to the Dec. 10-12 College Cup.
"We are playing some of the best soccer we've been playing all year, so watch for us in the Final Four," Martino said.