The Cavalier men's soccer team looks to continue its remarkable run through the NCAA Tournament against non-Conference rival UCLA tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium.
The third-ranked Bruins (18-2-0) have made life miserable for the No. 14 Cavs (14-8-1) in past games, including a 2-0 victory Oct. 30 in the Pacific Soccer Classic and another win over Virginia in the 1997 NCAA Championship game.
The Cavaliers earned their berth in the quarterfinals with victories over Princeton and Brown. This postseason success comes on the heels of one of the most trying regular seasons in the history of the program, one that saw Virginia fall out of the Top 25 for the first time in 16 years.
"I don't think this is a turnaround," Cav Coach George Gelnovatch said. "It's just a straightening out. We were never really sinking in a bad way. I think it's probably the toughest schedule we've ever played."
Having faced the Bruins a month ago, the Cavaliers know what they need to do this time around.
"When we played UCLA earlier in the season, we were timid and didn't play as hard as we could have in the first half," said Kyle Martino, a Cav midfielder who scored one of three team goals in the victory over Brown. "We got better and controlled them in the second half. This weekend we can't be so laid back in the first half; we're going to have to attack early. It will be important for us to get up early."
Virginia hopes the home field advantage will be the lucky charm after wilting in the Los Angeles heat in the team's last meeting at UCLA.
"Anytime you play at home, it's an advantage," defender Mike Feller said. "They had to fly in from St. Louis [after defeating the Billikens in the second round], but we've been here resting. It helps as far as focusing and getting prepared."
"I think that when teams come to Klöckner it's frustrating," Martino said. "Any team who comes here will be frustrated by the fans. I definitely think that it is to our advantage to play at home."
After narrowly missing an upset of No. 1 Duke in the ACC Tournament title game, the Cavs could have been satisfied with their NCAA berth following a regular season in which they finished last in the Conference. But now the Cavaliers have their sights on a loftier goal.
"Earlier in the season, we were only worried with finishing strong," Martino said. "Now our goal is the Final Four. I think that it will be a disgrace if this team doesn't win an NCAA Championship in the next two or three years."
"It's okay to lose some games as long as you win some of the big games," Gelnovatch said. "That's the key -- the way you look at your team in the end regardless of whether you get to the NCAA Tournament. At any level you question, 'Did my team get better, has my team progressed throughout the season, and are they playing the best they can at this time of year?'"
The Cavaliers had their struggles early in the season as ACC rivals Duke, North Carolina, Maryland, N.C. State and Wake Forest pushed ahead in the league standings. However, three games from the NCAA championship, the Cavs are the only ACC team still alive.
"It's been an interesting year," Feller said. "But now we're here, and that's what it's all about"