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The Skinny: Women’s soccer hosts Louisville, No. 1 Florida State

<p>Senior forward Makenzy Doniak earned ACC Offensive Player of the Week after a strong performance against Boston College last Sunday. She's now tied with Angela Hucles for first on the Cavaliers' career points list. </p>

Senior forward Makenzy Doniak earned ACC Offensive Player of the Week after a strong performance against Boston College last Sunday. She's now tied with Angela Hucles for first on the Cavaliers' career points list. 

What: No. 2 Virginia vs. Louisville, No. 1 Florida State

Where: Klöckner Stadium

When: Thursday, 5:30 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m.

The Skinny: Only four games remain on the regular-season schedule for Virginia women’s soccer. Having outpaced Boston College 4-2 in Beantown, the Cavaliers (11-1-1, 5-1-0 ACC) returned to Charlottesville ready for two more matches at Klöckner. One senior captain, center back Emily Sonnett, flew cross-country to train with the U.S. National Team in Seattle all workweek.

Meanwhile, another senior leader, forward Makenzy Doniak, earned the ACC Offensive Player of the Week award. In Boston, Doniak had returned from injury to revitalize the Virginia offense. She buried a goal 59 seconds into the match and added a historic assist at 6:59. Now tied with Angela Hucles for first on the Cavaliers’ career points list with 138, Doniak should be the sole record holder by the week’s end.

Virginia hopes Doniak will net an early goal or two Thursday afternoon against Louisville. The Cardinals (7-6-2, 5-3-1 ACC) hop around and peck for a goal, and rarely do they give up. Then-No. 1 North Carolina learned this the hard way at Louisville Oct. 8. The Tar Heels watched as Cardinal junior defender Caroline Kimble netted the golden goal at 99:51 for a signature win.

The Cardinals are neither the most talented bunch nor the most experienced. They don’t have a target up top like Doniak or an enforcer like Sonnett, though she’ll be absent to prepare for a friendly against Brazil Oct. 25. They have a young center-back duo — freshman Gabrielle Vincent and sophomore Inger Katrine Bjerke. Louisville also lacks offensive firepower: four players co-lead the team with only two goals each.

Virginia has nine players with three or more goals. The junior duo of forward Morgan Reuther and midfielder Alexis Shaffer has combined for 14 goals and seven assists in 2015. The Cardinals will rely heavily on junior goalkeeper Taylor Bucklin to contain “Reuty,” “Shaff” and “Mak.” A transfer from Michigan, Bucklin has played well for Louisville, conceding 10 goals in 930 minutes of action. Bucklin probably won’t hold the Cavaliers to that goal-per-game mark. So she’ll need her offense — which averages only one score per match — to somehow produce.

A second upset for the Cardinals is unlikely. They’ll fight, but too much favors second-ranked Virginia. Sunday, however, the Cavaliers will be in an entirely different position against No. 1 Florida State. Facing the foe that defeated them 1-0 in the 2014 College Cup Final and remains one spot higher in the polls, Virginia will be the slight underdog. The Seminoles (13-1-1, 6-0-1 ACC) retain key players from their championship run.

Senior forward Cheyna Williams — Soccer America First Team MVP (2014) and Most Outstanding Player at the 2014 College Cup — still torments opposing defenders with her agility and knack for finding corners. Williams has six goals and three assists so far. Sophomore goalie Cassie Miller, who boasted a 24-1-1 record last season, is 13-1-1 with a .47 goals allowed average in 2015. She and her back four, led by seniors Carson Pickett and Megan Campbell, shut attackers down.

Since falling to rival Florida 3-2 in Gainesville, the Seminoles have gone 10-0-1 and outscored opponents 34 to three. During this stretch, freshman midfielder Megan Connolly has emerged as not only a distributor but also a scorer. Connolly — who played for the U-19 Ireland National Team in 2014 and was named International Player of the Year — has collected five goals and 10 assists in 2015. She gives the defending champs even more firepower.

But that is enough about the top-dog Seminoles. Virginia is just as talented with Doniak, Shaffer and Reuther, among others. When the Cavaliers do take the field Sunday, they will not have Sonnett, but they will still have a sour aftertaste from the 2014 College Cup. And fueled by a sell-out Klöckner crowd from start to finish, maybe Virginia shouldn’t be considered the underdog after all.