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Cavaliers kick off tough ACC

The No. 2 Virginia men's soccer team finished its regular season undefeated with a 16-0-1 record, and at this weekend's ACC tournament it hopes to continue winning in style. The Cavaliers will take on Wake Forest, which defeated Duke in penalty kicks in the first round of the tournament, at Riggs Field in Clemson, S.C., today at 5:30 p.m.

Thanks to its perfect 6-0 ACC record, Virginia earned a bye in the first round of the ACC tournament - a break that it hopes to use to its advantage today.

"We've got a bye, and that's nice," Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. "That bye means more in the final than it does in the semi ... I think we'll be doing ourselves a favor when we get to the final. It'll make more of a difference having played a team [in the final] that's played two games and we've only played one with a day's rest. That second game ... is going to be a war."

The Cavaliers have to get by the Demon Deacons first, however, to make it to the title game. Virginia is 22-2-4 all-time against Wake, but when the Cavaliers hosted the Demon Deacons during the regular season, Virginia defeated Wake only 1-0 Sept. 17. Sophomore forward Alecko Eskandarian scored the goal in that matchup, which was the Cavaliers' first shutout of the season.

Thus, the Cavaliers know they can't take an ACC title for granted this weekend. Because of their nearly perfect record, they stand the most to lose.

"The regular season, nobody cares" about, Gelnovatch said. "The opponents we're going to be playing don't care that we were 16-0-1, so we need to refocus."

Virginia might need to re-evaluate its mindset, but it certainly doesn't need to change its game plan. This season the Cavaliers have enjoyed a highly versatile and deep squad that has been able to pull out ahead of all but one opponent. Virginia also boasts ACC coach of the year Gelnovatch, ACC player of the year Kyle Martino and five all-ACC selections.

Gelnovatch, who is just two wins shy of 100 coaching victories at Virginia, is in his sixth year with the Cavaliers. He has led Virginia to four of the last five ACC tournament finals matches and won in 1997. This season Gelnovatch has led the Cavaliers to its first undefeated season since 1995.

Junior midfielder Martino, who also was a first-team all-ACC selection, has five goals and a team-high eight assists so far this season. He often provides the spark in a potent Virginia offense - two of his goals have been game-winners. With an attitude of extreme determination and intense effort that he puts forth in every game, Martino has made it obvious he intends to help take Virginia far.

"It's blue collar, hard nose, put your neck on the line," he said. "Do whatever it takes to win the game and you'll win a championship. That's what I think we're doing."

Junior forward Ryan Gibbs, Eskandarian and junior defender Jonathan Cole join Martino on the all-ACC first team. Gibbs has a team-high nine goals and five assists in 2001. Eskandarian, who spent part of the season sidelined with a groin injury, still managed to total nine goals and three assists in 13 games. Cole has two goals and two assists this season and has helped lead the Virginia defense to 10 shutouts.

Redshirt freshman Matt Oliver was named to the all-ACC second-team. He notched his first collegiate assist and also has contributed significantly on defense this season.

As shown by all of their deserved accolades, it seems the Cavaliers should have no problem taking care of business this weekend at the ACC tournament. And they don't plan to stop there.

"I want a ring," Gibbs said. "I want jewelry"

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