CARY, N.C. — Holding a slim 1-0 lead with just under five minutes to go, as the seconds ticked down, the Virginia women’s soccer team drew closer and closer to a national title appearance on Friday night.
But the Cavaliers couldn’t cross the finish line.
A momentary defensive lapse allowed UCLA’s Ally Courtnall in on goal, and her equalizer ultimately led to overtime and penalty kicks, where UVA came up short 4-2.
The defeat shouldn’t mask what has been a tremendous season for both the program and women’s college soccer as a whole. Playing a swash buckling and entertaining style the Cavs scored 78 goals this season, and despite the glum of a season-ending defeat, held their heads high in light of finishing with a season record of 24-1-1.
“In the locker room, we were talking about it – this team is all in” forward Makenzy Doniak said. “We lost today. We didn’t get the result we wanted, but this season has been more than any of us could’ve imagined. We’re so close as a team, and this loss does not make our season a failure at all, by any means. For the seniors, we wanted to win it for them, but they will go on to do great things. I think our chemistry as a team has really grown this year. We were definitely successful.”
Head coach Steve Swanson wasn’t even disappointed with the team’s overall performance, as they battled UCLA, and had it there for the taking – unable to hold a slim lead against a very good team.
“I thought our team did extremely well,” he said. “We were in a position right where we wanted to be at the end there, and give them credit, they came back and got a goal and pulled it out in PKs. But if we play this game 10 times, it’s probably going to be like that every time.”
Bruin head coach Amanda Cromwell, a UVA alumnus herself, certainly noticed.
“So much credit goes to Virginia and that coaching staff,” she said. “That team is incredible. There’s no weakness that we could exploit. We had to be really patient. We didn’t have the ball for periods of time, and we weren’t used to that.”
In a results-driven business, outside of a regular season ACC title, Virginia came up short in both the conference and national tournament. They aren’t about to let that define them, however.
Led by attacking midfielder Morgan Brian and Doniak – whose tally in the College Cup gave her 20 on the season – the Cavaliers created buzz throughout the season with stellar performances, putting together a 13-0 record in ACC play.
And not only did the team score lots of goals, they did it in style, moving the ball quickly, keeping it on the ground, and bursting forward in numbers. After a quarterfinal victory against Michigan, Wolverine head coach Greg Ryan likened them to FC Barcelona. It was some of the most entertaining soccer played at any level in the United States this year.
For Swanson, all the credit for the way they’ve played this season goes to a full commitment from his team in 2013.
“Well, we’ve always been a team that tries to move the ball, we’ve always been a team that’s emphasis is on skills, a lot of mobility between our lines and very much rooted in the team concept both, offensively and defensively,” he said before Friday’s loss. “We’ve got some experienced players on the field, and they’ve worked together for a long time.
“We’re doing things at a higher level, than we’ve done in the past. I think a lot of it has to do with our players, how dedicated they’ve been and how much they’ve worked, how hard they’ve worked and how much they play together as a team. Soccer’s a team sport, it always has been and that’s something we’ve emphasized from the very beginning and we’ve got 25 players that play that way, and I think that’s been part of our success."
A sense of accomplishment wasn't lost on Brian, who was visibly upset in the postgame press conference after her penalty kick was saved.
“We broke a lot of records within Virginia this year and that’s not a failure at all by any means,” she said. “This has been the best year that I’ve been in Virginia and I couldn’t have asked for a better team to do it with. And I think it made it that much more special. I just want to thank my teammates because I know we’ve got a lot of support, we’ve broken crowd records so I think that Virginia’s been behind us and it’s been a great season.”
photo credit: Matt Riley, virginiasports.com