Virginia Soccer Off To Strong Start
Oct 09, 2008
When Virginia men's soccer coach George Gelnovatch says this year's team is young, he isn't exaggerating for effect. No, not at all. Gelnovatch is starting five freshmen for the first time since ... well, ever. And until Chris Agorsor tore his ACL recently, the Cavaliers were starting six freshmen.
With that information alone, one might wonder if Virginia's typical success will be threatened this year. But according to Gelnovatch, what the Cavaliers (6-3-0, 3-0-0 ACC) lack in experience, they make up for in talent.
"I think we're among the country's top-rated offenses," Gelnovatch said. "I think we are a dangerous team, athletically, with speed and athleticism, sometimes you sacrifice skill and soccer savvy, I think we have both."
The offense is tied for No. 7 in the nation with Michigan State, averaging 2.33 goals per game. Thus far, freshman Tony Tchani has led the way with eight goals in nine games. Part of what makes Tchani so special, Gelnovatch said, is the combination of his skill and elevated technique.
"Tony's a play-maker," Gelnovtach said. "He's 6'4", 190 pounds. He's a physical presence just looking at him. On top of that for a guy his size, he is very technical. Very good passer and vision. Unlike most in college soccer."
Tchani and the Cavaliers began their campaign with three out-of-character losses in the first five games, including a surprising setback to in-state rival VCU. In all of those losses, however, Gelnovatch said, the Cavaliers statistically were either evenly matched with or outplayed the other team.
"None of the three losses were you scratching your head saying 'We've got a long way to go,'" he said. "Not at all. ... The issue was just making sure that such a young team, five or six freshmen, keeping them believing in ourselves. If we keep staying the course, staying with it and being a team, the results would come."
And they have. Since the loss to VCU in the middle of September, the Cavaliers have reeled off five consecutive wins, including two ACC road victories over Virginia Tech and North Carolina.
While Gelnovatch admits Virginia has put itself in a very good position to win the ACC title, he's not ready to burden his young team with talks of being a NCAA title contender ... not yet anyway.
"With this particular team and how young it is, I don't talk about National Championships right now," he said. "We do talk about winning the conference and talk about that a lot. By taking care of the ACC, you are going to put yourself in a position to win the NCAA."
Gelnovatch worries, however, that the Cavaliers' youth could prove to be detrimental down the stretch. Thinking ahead, Gelnovatch said he has been trying to rest some of his players here and there.
"I haven't had a team this young," Gelnovatch said. "I worry about them a month from now, physically and emotionally. ... It's the cumulative effect."
Regardless of where this team ends up this season, with the amount of talent that will be retained in the program, Virginia soccer appears to have a very bright future in the coming years.
"That's the part that makes you sleep pretty good at night," Gelnovatch laughed. "We've got only one senior, Matt Poole, in our line-up who has done pretty well for us. The future is very, very bright. These guys have been awesome. It's been one of my most enjoyable years. There is a lot of teaching involved, a lot of work, but a lot of fun."
Women’s Soccer Expects Results
One thing that separates this year's women's soccer team from year's past, coach Steve Swanson said: the players' high expectations.
"They have a very real confidence about them that when they step on the field that they expect to win," Swanson said. "They are going to compete hard and give you all they have. I think as a coach you want to have that. They are not intimidated, no matter who they play."
The confident No. 7 Cavaliers (10-1-0, 4-0 ACC) have found success all season long, winning four in a row despite playing four out of their last five on the road. They have two more road match-ups at Virginia Tech and Maryland before coming home to face Boston College on Oct. 19. The Hoos' hot start in the ACC is made even more impressive by the fact that the league is one of the country's toughest conferences according to Swanson.
"You have to prepare the right way every game, you can't take anybody for granted or you're going to get beat," Swanson said. "It's very comparative to ACC basketball. It seems in women's soccer, you're talking annually eight or so are competing for a top 25 ranking. It makes you grow quick."
Entering the season, however, there were questions surrounding who would be doing the growing for the Cavaliers more than anything else. After losing senior Becky Sauerbrunn to graduation, Swanson learned that freshman All-American goalie Chantel Jones would take a year off to play for the US under-20 team and traveling to Chile for the World Cup.
"Obviously, your first sense is how do we replace these players," Swanson said. "But, with those opportunities, there is room for others to step up and we've had that happen."
Despite the losses, Virginia still has a very solid core of veteran starters, including an entirely senior backline. While the seniors no doubt play a big role for the Cavaliers, especially defensively, Swanson pointed out that one of this team's biggest strengths is the balance of older and younger players.
"I think the strength of our team has always been our team," Swanson said. "I think we've got a nice mix. I think the leadership on the team has done a great job of trying to keep everything together, focus on each game."
While the team's recent success makes it hard not to look forward to an ACC and possible NCAA title, Swanson insists you can't look at it like that.
"We have long-term goals," Swanson says, "but, if you constantly only think about that, you don't get as much out of your team. ... We're really focused on being the best team we can be right now."
In other words, Swanson points out, while it is important to have high expectations, it is easy to get disappointed if you are focused on only one goal.
"Our expectations are very high," Swanson said. "You have to understand there are 310 Division I women's soccer teams. There's only one that's going to be happy at the end of the day."
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