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WISHENGRAD: Why this is the year for Virginia women’s soccer

Undefeated through eight games, the Cavaliers are poised to finally win a national championship

<p>With an explosive offense and a stout defense, the Cavaliers have been dominant through eight games in the 2022 season.</p>

With an explosive offense and a stout defense, the Cavaliers have been dominant through eight games in the 2022 season.

The Virginia women’s soccer team has had one Coach in the 21st century — Steve Swanson. In this time period, the team has not missed an NCAA Tournament, appearing in 19 Rounds of 16, seven quarterfinals, three College Cups — the Final Four for college soccer — and one championship match. 

Yet still, for what has been an incredibly successful program at the Division I level, Virginia is still seeking its first NCAA Championship in women’s soccer. In the beginning of the 2022 season, the team has shown what many Cavalier fans have become accustomed to seeing — pure dominance in the regular season. Featuring an undefeated record, fans who have attended any of Virginia’s games at Klöckner Stadium have not left disappointed. With such a record and a top-seven ranking nationally, many Cavaliers have been wondering — is this finally the year? 

Above all, soccer is a team sport that requires a collective vision and gameplan. With Swanson leading the team into his 22nd season, Virginia’s women’s soccer features a mix of young talent and impressive veterans that have in combination helped to organize and develop the program. Leading the pack is graduate student forward Haley Hopkins. Hailing from Newport Beach, Calif., Hopkins is playing her second year for the Cavaliers after transferring from Vanderbilt and is tied for fifth in the nation with seven goals. 

On the assist side of many of Virginia’s goals is freshman midfielder Maggie Cagle, who is tied for ninth in Division I with five assists. Cagle is one of several young players who are already making a difference in their first couple of months on Grounds. 

While this balanced attack on the offensive side seems scary enough, Virginia’s defense is perhaps where they feature the most competitive advantage, allowing only one goal in eight regular season matches thus far. When you compare this statistic to the 3.375 goals the team is averaging per game, it's easy to see how dominant this team has been in the opening month of the season. This staggering difference between goals scored and goals allowed is no fluke. 

Sunday, in Virginia’s first draw of the year, Virginia still dominated shots, outshooting VCU 24-7. Although the Cavaliers couldn’t find the back of the net in this matchup, neither could VCU, nor could the six teams that Virginia faced before them. That’s not a typo — Virginia has not allowed a goal in the past 648 minutes of playtime, which is good for the fifth longest scoreless streak in program history. The opponents faced en route to the team’s current record of 7-0-1 were not pushovers either, featuring an away victory at No. 11 Georgetown Aug. 25 and a 5-0 thrashing at home against No. 23 Memphis Sept. 4. 

Looking ahead to the ACC schedule, the Cavaliers have a tough road ahead to stay undefeated, with a matchup Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C. against No. 2 North Carolina, who are fresh off of blanking No. 3 Duke — who Virginia faces Sept. 30 in Durham, N.C. Other threats include undefeated teams No. 12 Florida State on Oct. 6 and No. 6 Notre Dame on Sept. 22, with unranked Wake Forest on Oct. 20 and Virginia Tech on Oct. 13 being teams to look out for. 

As for the battle against North Carolina, a win this weekend would be the definition of a statement win and instantly propel Virginia into one of the top three rankings in the country. Above all else, Virginia should be focused on neutralizing the Tar Heels’ dynamic duo of junior forward Avery Patterson and sophomore forward Emily Murphy. If approached with the same intensity as for a NCAA Tournament game, the Cavaliers have the weapons to take down the 21-time national champion Tar Heels. 

Long story short, Virginia women’s soccer appears to have all the components of a team that can make a championship run. Lights-out scoring, precise passing and shutout goalkeeping have all been featured simultaneously throughout Virginia’s undefeated start during the non-conference portion of its schedule. Still, none of the Cavaliers’ opponents up to this point — even including ranked teams Georgetown and Memphis — compare to the historically dominant ACC teams that the squad is yet to face. 

No matter what the results of these star-studded conference games are, Virginia fans can find solace in knowing that this team is no stranger to the NCAA Tournament. With a quarterfinal appearance two years ago and a Round of 16 exit last year, the majority of the team knows what the postseason experience is like, and will enter this year hungrier than ever to not leave without a championship.