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No. 14 men’s soccer stays hot, takes down High Point 3-1

The Cavaliers won their third consecutive match with a dominant performance against the Panthers

<p>Virginia fans were relieved to see their team finding their footing as the game wore on, and just past the half-hour mark, the Cavaliers found their breakthrough.&nbsp;</p>

Virginia fans were relieved to see their team finding their footing as the game wore on, and just past the half-hour mark, the Cavaliers found their breakthrough. 

Virginia men’s soccer concluded its non-conference schedule Tuesday against High Point at Klöckner Stadium. While the No. 14 Cavaliers (9-3-3, 4-2-1 ACC) started slow, a dominant final 60 minutes saw the hosts handle the Panthers (8-3-4, 5-0-1 Big South) 3-1. 

Despite entering on a six-game unbeaten streak and holding home field advantage, Coach George Gelnovatch was entirely aware of the challenges High Point would pose to his team.

“I knew this would be a good game, and in some ways a little bit of a trap game for us coming off of two very good ACC wins,” Gelnovatch said. “I was worried about this game, so getting three goals in the manner that we did… it was a professional performance. Getting the win tonight means a lot.”

Virginia began the game feeling a lot of pressure from High Point, whose active press was causing plenty of problems for the Cavaliers. The visitors’ exploits allowed them four shooting opportunities within the game’s opening 20 minutes, but only one of the Panthers’ efforts landed on target, which junior goalkeeper Joey Batrouni dealt with calmly. 

Virginia fans were relieved to see their team finding their footing as the game wore on, and just past the half-hour mark, the Cavaliers found their breakthrough. Senior midfielder Mouhameth Thiam picked up the ball a few yards outside the box in the 32nd minute, carrying it forward until he found a window to shoot.

Standing just 10 yards from goal, Thiam’s deflected shot gave High Point sophomore goalkeeper Josh Caron little time to react as the ball nestled into the right side of the net. The goal was Thiam’s fourth of the season, giving him sole possession of second place on Virginia’s 2023 scoring charts.

The Cavaliers kept the Panthers' attack quiet during the remainder of the first period, entering the break with a 1-0 advantage despite being outshot 5-3 in the frame. 

As the second half began, Virginia wasted no time doubling its lead. The Cavaliers won a free kick with their first attack of the period, and junior defender Paul Wiese’s ensuing cross found the right foot of senior midfielder Axel Ahlander inside the box. Ahlander shifted the ball goalwards and watched his shot roll just under the outstretched arms of Caron to give Virginia a two-goal lead.

Ahlander — who entered Tuesday’s match as a substitute — came into the game with only one goal in his career for the Cavaliers and had yet to score in 2023. After an overdue welcome to the scoresheet in the 46th minute, the floodgates opened for the senior.

In the 52nd minute, Wiese picked out sophomore midfielder Albin Gashi all alone at the top of the box. Gashi took in Wiese’s rolling pass and let loose on a curling first-time shot. Gashi’s blast looked to be curling wide left of the goal, but a cutting Ahlander swooped in to redirect the ball into the right corner and send Virginia into an insurmountable 3-0 advantage. 

Gelnovatch was full of praise for Ahlander’s efforts Tuesday night, emphasizing the midfielder’s desire as a major contributor to his success.

“We brought him in for some energy, and we know he has quality,” Gelnovatch said. “He was eager, and sometimes in these games where guys are chomping at the bit to play more, it goes well for them. That’s what you want to see, that eagerness with guys coming off the bench.”

Although High Point found a goal in the 59th minute through graduate student forward Tony Pineda, the Cavaliers never showed signs of relinquishing anything further. Virginia allowed only two shots on goal in the game’s final 30 minutes, and Batrouni had no issues dealing with either.

When the referee’s final whistle blew, the Cavaliers had extended their unbeaten run to seven games. Virginia has not allowed more than one goal in any of those seven matches, and the Cavaliers have scored multiple goals in three consecutive matches for the first time this season. 

“Today, we weren’t at our best, and we won,” Gelnovatch said. “That’s a sign of a good team. Now we’ll turn the page and get ready for a big one on Friday.”

With just one regular season test remaining against North Carolina, Virginia has done the bulk of the required work to set itself up for postseason success. The Cavaliers sit second in the ACC Coastal and No. 15 in the NCAA Men’s Soccer RPI, which ultimately determines the 16 teams who are seeded in the NCAA Tournament. 

If Virginia can maintain the level of attacking prowess it has shown throughout the last few weeks, the Cavaliers will be one of the toughest teams in the country to oust come November. That task starts with Thiam and freshman forward Stephen Annor Gyamfi — scorers of 14 goals between them in 2023 — but contributions from the likes of Ahlander and Wiese are just as necessary. 

Virginia will conclude its regular season slate Friday when they take on the No. 11 Tar Heels at Klöckner Stadium. The game will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. and is set to be streamed on ACC Network. 

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