Nov. 14, 2013
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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- The University of Virginia women's soccer team has played 14 games at Klöckner Stadium this season, winning each one. The Cavaliers hope to run their home record to 18-0.
If that happens, they'll be headed to the College Cup -- NCAA soccer's version of the Final Four -- for the first time since 1991.
For the first time in the program's history, Virginia (20-1) is the top overall seed in the 64-team NCAA tournament. The Wahoos won a school-record 20 straight games before losing 4-2 to Virginia Tech in an ACC semifinal last weekend in Cary, N.C.
"We've broken a lot of records here at Virginia this year, and that's pretty exciting in itself," All-America midfielder Morgan Brian said Monday after the NCAA tourney field was announced.
"I think that just shows what this team can accomplish in the end, and if we keep playing the way we are and taking one game at a time, hopefully we can set some more records."
Virginia opens the NCAA tourney Friday at 7 p.m. against visiting Saint Francis (Pa.) at Klöckner. As a No. 1 seed -- the others are ACC rivals Florida State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech -- UVa is assured of playing at home through the quarterfinals if it continues to win.
"That's huge," Brian said. "Playing on Klöckner is great for us. It's a big field. It plays to our advantage. It's a great surface, and the crowds have been great this year, and the support that we've received."
UVa coach Steve Swanson said the No. 1 seed is "a reward for the season that we've had. But like anything else, in postseason it doesn't mean anything. It means we're home, and if we keep winning we'll be at home. But to be honest, everybody's 0-0 again. I think you're only as good as your last performance, and that's what we have to remember."
Swanson is in his 14th season at Virginia. He's guided the Wahoos to the NCAA tournament every year, with three appearances in the quarterfinals (2001, 2005 and 2011).
Never, though, has Swanson had a team as dominant as this one. Heading into its ACC semifinal, the Cavaliers had outscored opponents 65-10, a level of excellence that made their performance against the Hokies so stunning.
Virginia, which closed the regular season with a 2-0 win over Virginia Tech at Klöckner, did not allow more than two goals in any of its first 20 games.
"It's been a while since we've been put in that position, so it was tough," Swanson said. "It was disappointing. But I think there was a lot to be gained from it, in terms of improving as a team and understanding some of the things that we have to do in order to be successful.
"It's not something we wanted to go through. I don't think [the players] dwelled on it much, but there are a lot of lessons that we took away from the game. There were a lot of teachable moments in that game that haven't come out so much in the season. And sometimes when you lose, everything takes on a little bit more focus for you and there's a little more sense of urgency to do things in training and the way you prepare and those sorts of things."
The loss, senior midfielder Annie Steinlage said, was "definitely a disappointment, because that was one of our goals at the beginning of the year, to win the ACC championship. But I think we've definitely found some big learning points from it."
Swanson said he takes "a lot of responsibility for that result. I think there were a couple areas that I could have emphasized a little bit better, that I should have emphasized a little bit more. And maybe I took for granted that we played them just eight days earlier. So I think there's things there that I feel as a coach I could do a little bit better with."
Saint Francis, champion of the Northeast Conference, is 13-7-1 heading into its second NCAA tournament appearance. The UVa-Saint Francis winner will face LaSalle or Georgetown in the second round.
"I think we're in a good frame of mind heading into this game on Friday," Swanson said Monday. "We've had some very good practices the last few days, and I think there's a good sense of focus and I think their heads are in the right place. We were disappointed to lose, but I think our confidence is very high."
The earliest Virginia could face another ACC team would be the third round. The league has eight representatives in the NCAA tournament. This is the first time all four No. 1 seeds are from the same conference.
"I think it means everything, just knowing that we've been playing the best," Steinlage said. "It helps you feel more prepared going into the tournament."
Brian said she believes the loss to Virginia Tech is "actually a blessing in disguise for us going forward." The `Hoos are hungrier now, she said, and have extra motivation to return to form.
UVa finished the regular season as the only unbeaten and untied team in the nation. Would there be more pressure on the Cavaliers if they were 22-0 instead of 20-1?
Swanson isn't sure.
"I never sensed any pressure, really, about that record, to be honest," he said. "If I felt there was such pressure there that we just couldn't withstand it, like it was really getting to us, yes, I might feel that way. But I never thought it was getting to us, and I think Morgan and the rest of the team feel like I do. We want to win every game. That was the goal."
Victories, like defeats, can provide teachable moments, Swanson noted. "I like where we are right now. I think we've improved without the so-called benefits of maybe learning things with losses."
Ticket prices for UVa's first-round game: $9 for reserved seats, $7 for adult general admission and $5 for youth/student/senior citizen general admission.
Tickets may be purchased online at VirginiaSports.com, by phone at (800) 542-8821 or (434) 924-8821, and at the Virginia Athletics Ticket Office in Bryant Hall at Scott Stadium. Tickets are also available at the Klöckner Stadium gate beginning one hour before the start of play.
Cash parking is available Friday for $5 in the University Hall, McCue Center and John Paul Jones Arena lots. Free parking is available in the Emmet/Ivy Garage.