Through over a month of action for Virginia athletics, a number of Cavalier teams have excelled and earned high rankings, while others have shown promise.
After an undefeated start and an incredible road win against then-No. 2 North Carolina, the women’s soccer team suffered its first loss last week and will need to bounce back to achieve the high expectations many have set for the team. On the men’s side, the soccer team has flashed glimpses of brilliance, including a road win against No. 3 Syracuse Saturday. Meanwhile, the men’s golf team has earned a No. 1 ranking for the first time in program history and is in prime position to make a run at a national championship in the spring.
As these teams look to make the next step, members of our sports staff discuss the implications of these developments for each of these three teams going forward.
How can women’s soccer respond to its first loss of the season?
Harry Farley: The loss to a talented Notre Dame team on the road can be framed in a positive light. At 9-1-1 so far this season, Virginia has almost been unbeatable. While the loss is disappointing, this will serve as a reminder to the Cavaliers that they are not invincible. Virginia will need to have that feeling after losing at the front of their minds. With seven games left all against high-caliber ACC teams, the Cavaliers are certainly good enough to win out.
Brandon Brown: There is no need to panic in Coach Steve Swanson’s camp. Losing away to ACC foe No. 18 Notre Dame by one goal is not the end of the world. Missed chances and inconsistent defense led to the Hoos’ first loss of the season. Though likely to fall from No. 2 in the NCAA rankings, Virginia only needs to continue improving. The team has momentum and a chemistry that I predict will translate into the postseason.
Taylor West: At the end of the day, it’s always going to be challenging, no matter how good a team is, to go onto the road and beat a top-25 team in the ACC. In the Notre Dame game, it was the factor of not being able to put shots on goal with Notre Dame having eight to the Cavaliers’ one. Going forward, the Cavaliers need to apply more pressure to opposing defenses, as they are averaging just two shots on goal per game in the last three contests.
Is the win against No. 3 Syracuse a turning point for men’s soccer?
Harry: In short, hopefully. The win will surely be a huge morale booster for the team, yet a daunting ACC schedule still remains ahead, including matches on the road at Pittsburgh, Clemson and North Carolina. The key for the Cavaliers will be consistency on offense. Junior forward Leo Afonso, who scored the game-winner against the Orange, must continue his high level of offensive production if Virginia wants to contend for an ACC title.
Aidan Baller: The win against No. 3 Syracuse demonstrates this roster's capabilities when they play at its best. After a win against a top-ranked team, this roster knows its capabilities, which should allow them to produce better results against other ACC teams down the line. Syracuse was Virginia’s biggest regular season test, so if they continue to play at that level, it could definitely turn this season into something special.
Taylor: This win is absolutely huge for Virginia as they seemed to be going in the direction of its third straight season of mediocrity. It is all going to be about how the team will be able to build off of this win and keep this momentum going forward throughout the rest of the year in ACC play. The Cavaliers will have a chance to do just that Friday at No. 10 Pittsburgh.
Men’s golf is ranked No. 1 for the first time in program history — can it win a national championship in the spring?
Harry: Definitely. In its first tournament of the fall at the Streamsong Invitational, the team shot a school record 56-under en route to winning the tournament. Freshman Ben James, who might be the best individual golfer Virginia has had, has stimulated belief in a national championship. He won the Streamsong Invitational individually, shooting 20-under, and is ranked as the second best individual player in the most recent Golfweek poll.
Aidan: To start, Virginia wins National Championships — winning at least two in each of the last two years overall. Athletes at this school perform at the highest level in the crucial moments — something I see in this golf team. James has been phenomenal this fall and has shown that he is certainly capable of leading this team to a National Championship. Additionally, senior Pietro Bovari was only five strokes behind James, displaying that he has the capability to play with the best as well.
Brandon: Virginia men’s golf team has recently become the 13th sport in Virginia athletics history to reach the No. 1 ranking. The team boasts three players in Golfweek’s top-70 college golfers, including No. 2 James, who opened the season with a school record 20-under 196 in the Streamsong Invitational in Bowling Green, Fla. If the team continues performing as it is right now, it has a good opportunity to join the list of Virginia teams to win a championship.