This was the bargain that the ACC made to play fall sports: away teams will, when possible, complete all their travel in one day. So the Virginia women, who left for Durham early Thursday morning and returned home that night, left for Clemson on Sunday morning ahead of a six-hour bus trip. It might have been too much.
It didn’t take Clemson long to open the scoring, attacking down the right side, which I expect Virginia will see a lot of this season. First off, left back is helmed by freshman Samar Guidry, and she’s going to be tested, just because she’s a rookie. Also, there is typically space behind the left back, going back at three seasons from when Courtney Petersen was holding down the left. Just like Petersen, Guidry has the green light to attack and the defense effectively becomes a 3-back line when Guidry ventures forward.
The ball was deep in the right corner, the Virginia defense flooded into that sector, leaving right back Sarah Clark marking a Clemson player at the penalty spot. Caroline Conti, though, was alone at the edge of the six-yard box. I suspect this was by design and not poor marking because the Virginia D typically floods an area in defense. To victimize the Cavaliers, it would take a near perfect cross and a great header. Playing the odds, the defense seemed sound. Except that Maliah Morris made a fine cross and Conti’s finish was professional. And just like that, four minutes into the match, Virginia was chasing the game.
It was a task that would prove too much. Clemson was faster and stronger on the day and they played their game plan – drop deep in defense and hit Virginia on the counter – to perfection. Clemson was physical, but the ref called a tight game: Clemson was whistled for 14 fouls and the ref gave out two yellow cards. But the fouls did their job, preventing Virginia from ever getting into their free-flowing attack. The absence of two-thirds of our starting midfield, Taryn Torres and Anna Sumpter, didn’t help as it left Alexa Spaanstra and Lia Godfrey as our starting wide midfielders, both of whom could generously be described as “slight.” Midway through the half, the injuries mounted as Spaanstra twisted her ankle going for a ball in the Clemson penalty box. She tried to play, but she lasted less than a minute before walking off for good. Sophomores Lacey McCormack and Emma Dawson didn’t make a mark, though freshman Alexis Theoret played brightly during her cameo.
Chasing a goal would leave us stretched and vulnerable in the back and the Clemson counter worked to perfection with a long ball over the defense which sprang Courtney Jones who finished nicely. As time was winding down, Guidry was called for a handball in the penalty box and Morgan Bornkamp had a perfect strike for the third goal on the day.
If you are counting at home, that is the second handball that Virginia has given up in the penalty box and the fifth goal conceded. Last season the Cavaliers didn’t allow their sixth goal of the season until the ACC tournament.
My video capture was not working on Sunday afternoon, so there will be no highlights for this game, which is fine because highlights for the Cavaliers were few and far between. The one highlight I suspect I will remember was the introduction of Cam Lexow’s flip-throw (shades of Voga Wallace). She seems to have utilized the time off during the pandemic to learn this. First opinion: it still has too much arc to be particularly dangerous, but give Lexow a year and I suspect it will be quite the weapon. In any event, it’s a nice addition to Coach Steve Swanson’s arsenal.
Next up: The Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg to complete their home and home non-conference pair of games versus the Hokies. The game is on Friday night, September 25th.
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