After two sub-par outings, and with an ever-growing injury list, Virginia desperately needed an easier game. Traveling to Blacksburg for a second meeting with Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers were obliged by a Hokie team that would just be trying to score a second goal on the season. The game went to overtime when Claire Constant saved the game, and perhaps Virginia’s season.
Coaches are funny about injuries, frequently relying on Cold-War Berlin-Wall levels of subterfuge and disinformation. Coach Steve Swanson met with the game announcers prior to the game, but even an hour before the game, he was unwilling to acknowledge that Alexa Spaanstra would not play. If you are counting at home, Virginia’s entire potential starting midfield – Spaanstra, Taryn Torres, and Anna Sumpter – are out. Also joining this trio missing this game were keeper Laurel Ivory, who was at the game and seemed active (read that as NOT hurt) and freshman defender Samar Guidry, who had started all three previous games and was at the game in a boot. That’s five starters from a team that had reasonable pre-season expectations of competing for a #1 seed come the national championship. In addition, sophomore Cam Lexow took a heavy hit and limped slowly off the field.
In our first matchup with Virginia Tech, UVa scored in the first 8 minutes and ran away with the game. This game was a slog, both literally and figuratively, as Blacksburg had experienced very heavy rains for the 24 hours prior to kickoff. Much like the old glass half-full, glass half-empty paradigm for determining if one is an optimist or a pessimist, Virginia’s pace could similarly illuminate one’s inner soul. Was Virginia poised and deliberate or were they perhaps slow and nonchalant? Though I am an optimist, we seemed slow changing the angle of attack and we rarely displayed any urgency at the all-too-important moment when possession has been won.
Virginia controlled the tempo and largely dictated the play; while Tech frequently morphed into a 4 – 5 – 1, to their credit, the Hokies never bunkered down, even to the degree of a Duke, and tried to play even with Virginia.
Tech was not successful largely due to the efforts of redshirt keeper, Cayla White, who started in place of Ivory and leapfrogged over Michaela Moran who had deputized for Ivory last season after she was destroyed by UNC’s Brianna Pinto. While Virginia had the customary advantage in the counting stats – corners, shots, shots on goal – the two best shots on frame came from Virginia Tech and White had two game-saving stops. Her play was so impressive, especially on a wet pitch with a sodden ball, that I am ready to anoint her the successor to Ivory in 2021.
Here’s her day:
There were some encouraging signs from the defense. Sarah Clark’s offense has needed work; today she provided it, putting her best shift yet in in the opponent’s half and Clark was instrumental in helping right winger Rebecca Jarrett to see more of the ball than she has seen all season. Claire Constant had another strong game in central defense, and it’s important to note that while she is third year, she is still a rookie as a central defender for Steve Swanson. Talia Staude had her most imperious game yet, turning on the ball a la Phoebe McClernon and distributing the ball as well as Zoe Morse. In this case, I won’t discount Staude’s performance as coming against a weaker team like Tech because this was an important developmental milestone.
Youth was on full display in the midfield as freshman Lia Godfrey, and sophomores Emma Dawson and Lacey McCormack logged major minutes joining senior Sydney Zandi on the pitch. Swanson is moving players around a bit more this season than he has in recent seasons and this quartet looked very comfortable switching across the field. The game announcers called both Godfrey and Dawson the center mid on several occasions – hint, it was Zandi – but their confusion was descriptive of the fluidity in the center of the pitch. This is a position suffering the twin losses of Torres and Sumpter, after all, but this development was welcome.
The front line though, really struggled on the night. Jarrett saw much more of the ball in the first half, but still, too many of these times the ball came to her feet when she was stationary. We really struggle getting the ball to her when she’s moving and she’s just half the player playing from a static position. It’s been three games now that I have been able to watch, and it’s time to say that Diana Ordonez is really struggling. Her teammates were looking for her, and though most of the crosses were finding Ordonez’ back foot, she struggled at a minimum to keep possession. It’s two games in a row now that she has had convertible headers that she has just missed. Ashlynn Serepca and Alyssa Gorzak are fighting as hard as they can, but in this game, both found themselves on the left in space, tried to cut in to get the ball on their right foot and just lacked the pace to create a really good shot. Five goals in four games is NOT maintaining UVa standards.
The game went to overtime and for a second time this season, Lia Godfrey’s corner was converted, this time by Constant. It’s the correct result as Virginia was stronger all game. But a waterlogged pitch, the lingering aftereffects of pandemic-induced travel the week before, and the absence of five starters (from a team that was already young to begin with) all contributed to this game being more competitive than it should have been given the respective talent on the rosters. I suspect we’ll have to eke out many more games this season, the next of which is Thursday, October 1st, as Virginia hosts the rapidly improving Pittsburgh. Gametime is 7pm.
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