Steve Swanson wasn’t ready to reflect- yet.
The head coach of the top-ranked, undefeated Virginia women’s soccer team had just been asked to put the program’s first ever ACC Regular Season Championship into perspective. His eyes got wide, and he slowly shook his head. “I don’t think that has sunk in,” Swanson replied. “I think in this day in age with the quality of teams that are in this conference it says a lot, but I don’t think we’ll think about it until maybe down the road.”
What has already been a magical fall in Charltottesville for this group of 25 ladies continued yesterday at Klockner Stadium, as the ‘Hoos handed #3 Florida State their first loss of the year. Just 54 seconds into overtime, Cavalier senior midfielder Annie Steinlage beat Seminole keeper Kelsey Wys with a strike just inside the left post for the only goal of the match. Oh by the way- it was the Michigan State transfer’s 1st goal in an orange-and-blue uniform. Not a bad one to have for that memory.
At 18-0-0, the Cavaliers have already set a school record for the longest winning streak. They’ve held the top spot in every national poll for 6 weeks straight. And, as of yesterday, they’ve now locked up the ACC regular season title.
That’s what this team looks like on paper. From up in the broadcast booth, I feel like there’s so much more to it, and I was asked two questions over the weekend that exemplify why.
First on Friday a good friend and fellow alumnus asked whether the women’s soccer team was still undefeated. Yep. “Nice…Then I think I’m gonna go on Sunday. It’s been too long since I’ve heard the words ‘Cavaliers win.’” He did in fact go. And the text “!!!” convinced me he left happy.
And that’s a big part of it. In a fall where the guys at Scott Stadium haven’t exactly been lighting up the “W” column, Charlottesville sports fans have been lifted up by the Klockner winning machine. Yesterday, about 4,000 of them came out to watch Virginia pick up win number 18, shattering the attendance record (set earlier this month against Notre Dame) in the process.
Then Saturday I was asked if I ever found myself wishing I were calling the men’s games rather than the women’s. No, don’t worry, I’m not about to make this a soapbox on gender equality. But, without hesitation, “no” was also the answer to the question.
Look, I’m a soccer amateur by any measurement and regularly admit as much. But even an eye as woefully untrained as mine can appreciate the graceful execution of this 2013 Virginia women’s soccer squad. Every pass is sharp, on point, and with a purpose. UVA routinely puts 3-4-5 passes together to move from their defensize zone to the other box before the opposition even realizes they no longer have possession. If it sounds like I’m embellishing, ask any of the 18 teams Steve Swanson’s bunch has faced so far.
And the roster is simply an incredible blend. On the one hand, you’ve got the superior talent of Morgan Brian. Every single match she does something absurd- usually resulting in a defender tripping over herself or a ball in the back of the net. Then there’s the non-stop aggression of Danielle Colaprico. She has an uncanny nose for the ball, and at 5’3″ is never afraid to challenge taller opponents for headers- which she usually wins. And finally, poised leadership from 5th years like Kate Norbo and Morgan Stith and 4th years like Molly Menchel and Steinlage. And “leadership” is not an empty, abstract cliche here. This group constantly pushes those around them- be it through words or actions- on the field.
With a group like that, it’s no wonder why Coach Swanson isn’t ready to look back quite yet. After all, there’s so much left to be accomplished. “It’s pretty amazing,” said Steinlage after the win yesterday. “[Winning the ACC] was definitely one of our big goals coming into the season, but we refocus on every game, and we’re still focusing on our last ACC game.”
After wrapping up the regular season this coming Thursday against Virginia Tech, the ‘Hoos will turn their attention to Cary, North Carolina. The Conference Tournament begins there on November 3rd, and the 1st Round of the NCAA’s will be on November 15th back home in Charlottesville.
If you haven’t been to a match this season? I’ll see you Thursday night. Feel free to wear your Halloween costume. Even ghosts and zombies can enjoy the execution on display. And hey, it’s always better when that execution comes against the Hokies.