If you remember the 1999 Virginia soccer teams and are trying to apply that to the upcoming season, please don't. Take everything you thought you knew about last year's Cavalier men's and women's teams and flip it upside down.
Last season, the Virginia men were reeling from a series of MLS defections and had to rely on a boatload of youngsters while their female counterparts were stacked with a roster their coach dubbed the best in program history. The men suffered through a tumultuous regular season before making a Cinderella run to the NCAA Elite Eight, but now the glass slipper is on the other foot.
This time around, it's new coach Steve Swanson and the Cavalier women who will need a fairy godmother and a whole lot of learning on the job to make a dent in the postseason.
Before she left to take the reins of the U.S. women's national team, former coach April Heinrichs culled together a phenomenal recruiting class that would have given the Cavs a great chance to build on their third-round NCAA appearance, even while graduating the most prolific scorer in program history. But when Heinrichs took the U.S. job, Swanson could not convince her top two recruits, Alyssa Ramsey and Nandi Pryce, to honor their commitments. The new Virginia freshmen are still an impressive group, led by keeper Jodi Clugston, forward Sarah Lane and wing midfielder Erin Englehardt, but the Cavs likely needed Ramsey and Pryce to offset a quartet of losses up the middle.
Swanson knew he was inheriting a squad that graduated scoring machine Angela Hucles and also lost fifth-year stars Carryn Weigand and Jill Maxwell. What he could not have anticipated was losing emerging star Tammy Westinghouse to a torn ACL in the spring, six months before she was set to replace Weigand as the senior anchor of the Cavalier central defense.
So now Swanson is forced to go with a central defense composed of sophomores Meredith Rhodes and Kelly Worden, who both had solid rookie campaigns in the midfield but have no collegiate experience as the backbone of a defense. Returning a pair of outside backs like Ashley Meeker and Brooke Stastny will help immeasurably, but for now, the defense has to be a major question mark.
Last year, Virginia was skilled but woefully young. Now that they have even more talent and a full season of ACC play under their collective belt -- and a lineup that is two deep at every position -- the Cavs are a good bet to regain their birthright as one of the best teams in the country.
The parade of stars begins up top, where Sheldon Barnes, Ryan Gibbs and Hermann Trophy finalist Ryan Trout lead a group of forwards five or six strong. The midfield is just as powerful, with youngsters like Kyle Martino and Kenny Arena supported by veteran Steve Totten. It's a testament to the strength of the midfield that this year's group may be even better than last year's, despite graduating emotional leader Drew O'Donnell.
The talent list continues through the backfield, headed by Mike Feller and Chad Prince, and in goal, where the two-headed monster of David Comfort and Kyle Singer gives Gelnovatch a pair of equally skilled keepers.
It's hard to imagine what could derail the Cavalier men. They have a roster so deep and balanced that intrasquad scrimmages are battled to a near draw. They have a veteran coach steeped in the glorious tradition of Virginia soccer, who had a phenomenal teacher in Cav predecessor Bruce Arena. They even have a great recruiting class that will push for -- and in some cases, seize -- their older teammates' starting jobs.
In one sense, the Cavaliers are competing against history, fighting off comparisons to the 1997 squad that capped a string of six NCAA finals appearances in nine years. Their murderous schedule may keep them from racking up an eye-popping win total during the regular season, but come tourney time, Gelnovatch should have his first legitimate title threat in three years. Swanson's squad, on the other hand, will have a lot of growing to do before it reaches that point.