When the Virginia Cavaliers bowed out of the College Cup in the semifinals last year with a heartbreaking loss to eventual champion UCLA, some worried that the Cavs had missed their best chance to win a national championship.
Even Coach Steve Swanson acknowledged he’d have to rebuild after the best year in the program’s history, during which Virginia went 24-1-1 and lost to UCLA on penalty kicks.
“You walk in the locker room for the first time, and it’s a different team,” Swanson later said when he began preparations in the spring for this season.
And, “That’s a significant amount to lose, especially when you consider their value to the team,” Swanson was quoted as saying by Bennettrank this past summer.
But don’t tell the team – or the rest of the ACC – that BR-5 Virginia is rebuilding. You sure wouldn’t know it from looking at this year’s Cavaliers.
Virginia dropped its first ACC game on Sunday, losing to BR-3 Florida State 1-0 after coming into the weekend at 10-0-0, the last undefeated and untied team in the nation. Virginia had won its first two ACC games, 3-1 over Miami and 5-0 over BR-31 Wake Forest. But the Cavs are clearly having a pretty good year, for a “rebuilding team.”
Rebuilding is relative. There’s one player who didn’t graduate, much to the annoyance of coaches and defenders across the rest of the ACC: midfielder Morgan Brian.
Where to begin in describing how good Brian is? Maybe with last year’s awards: Hermann Trophy winner, Soccer America Player of the Year, TopDrawerSoccer Player of the Year, First-team All-American, and tied for first in points in the ACC last year. She was nominated for an ESPY as best female college athlete.
Recently, she’s turned out on the U.S. Women’s National Team, too.
Just weeks after she received the Hermann Trophy as college soccer’s best player, Brian got a start for the national team against Canada, playing 90 minutes in a 1-0 win. This fall, she was called up for national team duty in August and was the only college player on the team, coming off the bench in a 4-1 win over Switzerland.
Brian’s strength isn’t her scoring necessarily, she’s generally regarded as a playmaker, creating chances for attackers in front of her. So far this season, Brian has netted 3 goals and 5 assists for Virginia. Another strong playmaker for Virginia is Danielle Colaprico, who is leading the team in assists with 7, and also has 3 goals.
Also back from last season were last year’s goal-scoring leaders are Makenzy Doniak, who so far is leading the team this year with 6 goals, and Brittany Ratcliffe, who has 5 goals so far this season.
But as Virginia learned in its close loss Sunday at Florida State (10-1-0), the ACC is getting into the meat of its schedule, and the Cavs will face several stiff challenges.
In addition to FSU, which was the eventual national title game victim of UCLA last year, Virginia’s conference schedule still includes BR-7 Virginia Tech (10-1-0), which also picked up right where it left off last year, with a program-best season start of 10-0 before falling at home to Notre Dame 2-0.
And the Cavs will also face the BR-11 Fighting Irish (6-3-1) next, at South Bend on Oct. 5.
And while BR-16 Duke has four losses, they’re still 2-0 in the ACC and can give an opponent fits on any given day. Virginia doesn’t face BR-8 North Carolina in the regular season, but the Tar Heels could be an obstacle to winning the conference tournament.
After Notre Dame the Cavs host BR-26 Boston College and North Carolina State (BR-78), and have road games at Louisville (BR-65), and Duke before the late season meeting at Virginia Tech. They’ll finish the regular season with a home game against Pitt (BR-114).