At 11-3-2, the University of Virginia Women’s Soccer team is playing beautiful soccer. For it, we have spent most of the season in the top-15 (we’re currently #11 and rising). The pieces are in place to be rewarded with our first-ever ACC regular season championship.
What are those pieces? Duke, Virginia, and North Carolina are tied atop the ACC with 16 points apiece, with Wake Forest right behind at 15 (teams receive 3 points for a win, 1 for a draw). Virginia has two games remaining: Home against Virginia Tech tonight @7 and Miami next Thursday @7. Both Miami and VaTech are unranked and are in the bottom half of the conference. Duke, WF, and UNC all have three games left on the docket. #4 Duke goes on the road against #3 Wake Forest and NC State, and hosts #15 Maryland. Wake hosts Duke, before going on the road against Clemson and #17 Boston College. UNC travels to BC, VaTech, and Maryland. So what does that mean? Virginia is the only team in the conference championship conversation with no road games and no ranked opponents the rest of the way; never mind the fact that two games at home in a week takes less of a toll than three on the road over the same stretch.
Virginia has the tiebreaker over UNC and Duke (I’ll spare you the complicated explanation as to why), while Wake has the tiebreaker over us. That in mind, Duke or UNC would have win the conference outright, while Wake needs at least a tie atop the standings; assuming Virginia takes care of business this week, anyone else would have to go 2-0-1 over the final stretch to do win the ACC. Tonight’s matchups will be huge.
Okay, enough on the conference, let’s move to our team. Caroline Miller has twelve goals on the season (good enough for 19th in the nation), including three game winners. She’s twice been named ACC Player of the Week for scoring game-winners in overtime (over UNC and FSU). Lauren Alwine is one of the finest offensive players to come through the University, having shattered UVA’s career assists record (she has 40 and counting going into Thursday’s game against Virginia Tech); she also holds the school’s game-winning assists records. Chantel Jones’ eight shutouts this season put her just three away from the NCAA’s career record. At .649, she has the lowest Goals Against Average in UVa history (she’s also second on UVA’s all-time saves list).
Our back line (which includes Molly Menchel, Amanda Fancher, Olivia Brannon, Maggie Kristner, Shasta Fisher, and Kate Starsia) has held opponents to fewer than three shots on goal per game this year. Our midfield is deep (having at various times included Alwine, Fisher, Brannon, Morgan Brian, Erica Hollenberg, Julia Roberts, Danielle Colaprico, and Amber Fry), and they are playing as crisp a game of as you could ask (seriously, last Sunday’s game against Clemson was a clinic in midfield play). Douglas is averaging better than half a goal per 90 minutes played (for the non-soccer aficionados reading, that’s a scary pace), and along with Alwine and Hollenberg, she’s top-10 in the ACC in assists. Our forwards are positively frightening inside the box, as basically every keeper to take on Douglas, Brian, or Miller can readily attest. With eight or nine players who can play anywhere on the field, we easily have one of the deepest teams in the conference.
That depth has proven essential on more than one occasion this season. We have played five overtime games this season, including three that went to double OT; at 3-0-2, we are unbeaten in extra time. We’ve battled injuries all season. We’ve been without Morgan Stith all year; lead the team in minutes the last two seasons. Starting midfielder Kate Norbo went down to injury before conference play; injuries also sidelined forward Emily Perrin. To still be in first place in the conference, despite being down two starters and logging abnormally high minutes, is a testament the depth and tenacity of the 2011 Lady Cavaliers.
If you need a summary, here it is: Our women are playing excellent soccer. We’re in a great position to win the conference. We are in strong position to make a deep run in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. If we play in the tournament the way we did against UNC or Clemson, we’re in the national championship discussion. Even better: We haven’t played our best soccer yet. Clemson could have easily been 7-0
And you, yes you need to come out to the last two games of the regular season. Tonight, we take on Virginia Tech at 7pm. Next Thursday night, we take on Miami at 7pm and celebrate the last regular season home game for our storied group of fourth-years (Alwine, Fancher, Jones, Kristner, and Starsia). And of course, make plans to be back in Klöckner Stadium for the ACC and NCAA tournaments.