Virginia enters the 2020 season with considerable questions — not so much about the team itself, but the entirety of the collegiate soccer landscape. As the ACC intends to play sports this fall, the Cavaliers look to improve upon a disappointing second-round exit from last year’s College Cup. Although the NCAA has postponed the NCAA Tournament until the spring, Virginia looks forward to ACC action and competing for the conference title.
The ACC announced Friday that each team will play an eight-game conference schedule wit Virginia’s schedule beginning at Klockner Stadium Sept. 12 against in-state rival Virginia Tech. Notable games this season include a clash with NCAA Championship runner-up North Carolina Oct. 8 and a home game against last year’s No. 7 ranked Florida State Oct. 18. After conference play — which concludes Nov. 1 — the Cavaliers will compete in an eight-team ACC Championship single-elimination bracket from Nov. 10 to Nov. 15 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C.
Looking at the new additions to the team, this year’s recruiting class ranks second in the nation according to Top Drawer Soccer. It is headlined by No. 8 freshman defender Samar Guidry and No. 10 freshman forward Lia Godfrey, both of whom have experience on the international level as they played with U.S. national teams. In total, the class boasts nine freshmen who are expected to build a strong program at Virginia and junior transfer defender Sarah Clark from Purdue, who brings collegiate experience to a back end that has two long-time mainstays graduating.
While the 2020 class is loaded with prospects, the Cavaliers also have considerable firepower returning from last season’s ACC Tournament run, particularly in the attacking third. Sophomore forward Diana Ordonez will be a player to watch this season, having led the ACC in goals her freshman year. Junior midfielder Alexa Spaanstra, who led the ACC in assists last season, will look to contribute significantly as well. Furthermore, Charlottesville native senior midfielder Anna Sumpter returns for her fifth and final season bringing leadership and savvy soccer IQ to the pitch. In goal, senior Laurel Ivory looks to come back to the field strong after a serious jaw injury in the ACC championship that hindered her incredible junior season. Prior to the injury, Ivory had allowed just six goals in 19 games and posted an undefeated 15-0-3 record.
Delving into the offense, the graduation of forward Meghan McCool will be a huge loss for the front lines, but the emergence of Ordonez as a bona fide goal-scorer will soften the damage. Ordonez and Spaanstra are set to headline the offense, but key contributors such as junior forward Rebecca Jarrett will play a pivotal role in taking pressure off of Virginia’s stars. Senior midfielder Sydney Zandi and junior forward Ashlynn Serepca also hope to build upon their successful 2019 campaigns.
Defensively, the loss of defenders Phoebe McClernon and Zoe Morse will similarly have an impact on Virginia as it returns to action this fall. The two senior leaders and defensive anchors played a pivotal role in the team’s success last year. While the offense looks to remain lethal, younger defenders will have to step up to replace McClernon and Morse. Sophomore defender Talia Staude and junior defender Claire Constant will be looked upon for help on the back end. Clark also hopes to bring collegiate experience and leadership to the defense, and Guidry may compete for starting minutes right away. Key to the Cavaliers’ success, Ivory will be leaned on heavily in goal with a rather inexperienced defense as the senior looks to be recognized as one of the best goalies in the NCAA.
Overall, the Cavaliers look to rebound from a disappointing end to the 2019 season and will rely on their high-scoring, possession-controlling, sophisticated style of play to succeed. Key matchups against Virginia Tech and North Carolina will be considered non-conference games and will not count towards the ACC standings.
Florida State is the biggest threat on the Cavalier’s conference schedule. The Seminoles presented significant challenges in Virginia’s overtime victory last season, but Virginia will have the home advantage this time around. The Cavaliers look to dominate the conference schedule as only three of eight teams — Florida State, Duke and Louisville — rank inside the United Soccer Coaches Top 25 Poll.
As the Sept. 12 season debut against rival Virginia Tech approaches, the Cavaliers look forward not just to competing in the ACC, but hopefully winning their first ACC title since 2012.