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Men's Postseason plays silences early critics

What happened to all the talk?

A month ago, fans were lamenting over the Virginia men's soccer team's last place finish in the ACC and saying how the team's great dynasty was over.

But now that the Cavaliers are in the final eight of the NCAA Tournament, one win away from going to Charlotte for the College Cup, soccer's Final Four, their seven regular season losses are a world away.

All the college coaches who complained that it was unfair that the Cavaliers received the sixth seed in the tournament after entering with the most losses of all 32 teams are eerily silent now that the Cavs are one of only three seeded teams still alive.

A month ago, you also would have heard about how this team was too young and too inexperienced to do anything but wait until next year. Now the four starting first years -- midfielders Kyle Martino and Kenny Arena, forward Ryan Gibbs and keeper David Comfort -- have played almost a season-and-a-half of soccer (including two triple-overtime win-or-go-home playoff games) and have surprised opponents with their poise and maturity.

What started the turnaround? What took this team from last place in the ACC to being the only ACC team left in the NCAA Tournament?

Wake Forest Coach Jay Vidovich had the best answer when he said the Cavaliers showed great "competitive maturity" in their 2-1 win over the Deacons in the ACCs.

Vidovich meant that the Cavs rise to the occasion when the postseason rolls around. Maryland, Princeton and Brown would agree after their losses to Virginia, but the most amazement regarding the Cavalier's recent play might be found at Duke -- the team that beat Virginia for the ACC title after three overtimes.

After getting the No. 1 seed following an undefeated season, the Blue Devils fell to Santa Clara last weekend, and now, like the rest of the ACC, are at home watching the Cavs on TV.

Let's not get out of hand with the approbation, though.

Virginia enters the roughest part of the storm tomorrow when UCLA comes to Klöckner for the NCAA quarterfinal.

The Bruins have had the Cavs' number over the last couple of years, beating them 2-0 in the Championship game in 1997 and taking care of them earlier this season by the same score.

However, these Cavs are a different team than the one that fell to UCLA in Westwood on Halloween, and will match up better with the Bruins tomorrow.

The biggest difference is David Comfort, who took over the goalkeeping duties for second-year Kyle Singer in late October. In his first few games, Comfort looked and, more importantly, sounded uncomfortable in goal. While Singer contributed continuous vocal streams of encouragement and instructions, Comfort was completely silent in some of his performances. Now, though, the first year is piping up and taking on the leadership role that a good team needs from its keeper.

But soccer is about much more than goalkeeping, and this team isn't as talented all-around as previous Virginia squads. The defense had problems with quick, speedy forwards against Duke and will have to face UCLA's high-scoring midfielder Sasha Victorine, one of the best clutch players in the country.

Can the Cavs pull it off and head onto Charlotte?

Yes, but only if they can convert their offensive opportunities and keep defensive pressure on Victorine and the Bruin midfield, forcing the slower forwards to lead the scoring. And all of that means the Cavaliers shouldn't pack their bags quite yet.

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