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Women's soccer faces familiar foe

The Virginia women's soccer team went 0-3 against its top ACC rivals and lost three of its last four regular season games. Yet as the Conference Tournament begins today in Chapel Hill, the No. 16 Cavaliers have a realistic shot at the ACC title.

The fifth-seeded Cavs (12-7-0, 4-3-0 ACC) face No. 8 Clemson, the tourney's fourth seed, tonight at 8 p.m. The Tigers (12-5-1, 4-3-0) won the regular season matchup between the two squads and have ousted the Cavaliers from the ACC Tournament in each of the last two seasons.

So why all the optimism? To run the table, Virginia likely would have to beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in addition to the Tigers. The Cavs lost each time they faced those three teams this season, but always by a slim margin.

The Oct. 2 loss at Clemson, a 1-0 decision in overtime, was especially difficult to swallow.

"If we could look back, that's one we'd like to have back," Cav Coach April Heinrichs said. "We did not play our best soccer last time and we only lost in overtime. The Clemson players and coaches were very happy with themselves."

However, the Cavs have not resigned themselves to defeat simply because they lost to Clemson earlier this year. As fourth-year striker Angela Hucles put it, the Cavaliers are looking for a reversal of last season, when they beat the Tigers in the regular season and then lost to them in the ACC Tournament. Heinrichs agreed.

"How you did last time [in the regular season] is not necessarily an indication of how you're going to do this time," she said. "We're a completely different team than we were when we played Clemson last time."

She pointed out that her team has developed an ability to defend offenses like that of the Tigers, which rely on long balls and air attacks.

"It's going to be huge to have pressure on their servers," fifth-year sweeper Carryn Weigand said. "That's one thing we're good at is putting pressure on the ball up top."

Weigand and the Virginia defense especially will have to watch for speedy Clemson senior forward Beth Keller, who knocked the Cavaliers from the Tournament last year with a pair of goals.

"Beth is a great player," Hucles said. "She's extremely good in the air, so it's going to be especially important for our midfielders and backs to win head balls."

"She's got a strong shot and she'll take it any time she gets the ball," Weigand said. "I look forward to shutting her down."

If they can slip by the Tigers and win a second-round contest against what likely will be the top-seeded Tar Heels -- whom Virginia has never beaten in the 15-year history of the program -- the Cavaliers would earn a berth in Sunday's final.

That afternoon, Heinrichs will be one of several former ACC stars honored for their participation in World Cup action. Yet the former Tar Heel superstar said she may not attend the ceremony.

"Only if we make the finals will I be attending that," Heinrichs said. "But I'm telling you, we have what it takes to beat Clemson and to beat North Carolina."

The Cavaliers certainly have the motivation to grab a bit of revenge on the Tigers, who seem to spoil Virginia's ACC party every year.

"We're raring to go," Weigand said. "Everyone's excited to get a rematch against Clemson. We all have something to prove"