After an abbreviated spring season and a pair of exhibition games that included a game versus some random boys team, the Cavaliers began their 2019 season with a bang, handily defeating the UC Irvine Anteaters, who until this game, had a perfect record against ACC teams.
The bad news came before the game. Lizzy Sieracki has been lost for the season and Sydney Zandi will be out for some time, though since all coaches hoard injury news like a chipmunk caches his nuts, we may not know how long it will be until Zandi returns til we see her in the lineup. Phoebe McClernon played, but was wearing a very heavy looking cast looking nothing at all like the cast that Kihei Clark sported for seven games.
Thus the starting lineup was Megan McCool on the left, freshman Diana Ordonez in the middle, and Becca Jarrett on the right. Alexa Spaanstra dropped back to left midfield, Taryn Torres was in the middle, and Anna Sumpter was at right. The back line was Courtney Petersen, McClernon, Zoe Morse and Claire Constant. Laurel Ivory was the keeper.
We overwhelmed Irvine from the whistle and had a three goal lead in the span of 11 minutes as our three top scorers from last year – Spaanstra, McCool and Jarrett – all scored.
Spaanstra’s goal was especially pretty: she picked the ball in midfield, drove right at Irvine’s central defender and forced her back, back, back until she reached the edge of the penalty box and was about to make a play on the ball, when Spaanstra hit from distance.
Two minutes later after the Irvine keeper came out to the penalty spot and made a weak clearance, the ball fell right to Jarrett who calmly lofted the ball over the keeper into what was effectively an open net.
Eight minutes later, Sumpter sent the ball into the middle of the box, where McCool was wide open, and she made no mistake, heading the ball past a defenseless keeper. The game was over by then and in the second half the Irvine coach all but surrendered when he started, and played, most of his reserves the entire second half. The subs succeeded only in maintaining team shape and UVa picked through them with ease, in many cases walking the ball for 8 – 10 yards at a time.
Constant scored her first ever collegiate goal off of a perfectly designed free kick from Petersen and doubled her tally late in the game when the keeper palmed the ball almost right in Constant’s path. The other notable goal was delivered by Ordonez who got a breakaway and slotted the ball past the keeper with aplomb. Sumpter completed the scoring with a nice finish, so the final tally for the first game is that six different Cavaliers scored. I’ll be keeping track of the number of scorers all year.
As far as the rotations go, there were some eye-openers for me. I had been told that Ordonez was likely to start and this moved McCool out to left wing where she has the speed and stamina for the job, but not the ball skills. In the second half, McCool did move into the center while Ordonez shifted wide, but Ordonez didn’t look like a winger to me, either.
Spaanstra is going to dominate wherever she plays, and if the Spaanstra – Torres – Sumpter midfield stays intact, it will give us an incredibly goal-minded midfield. But it means that the forward line will probably not be as effective pressing as last year: McCool will have to find her way into a wide role; Jarrett, for all her speed, is not a great presser, and I didn’t notice Ordonez pressing much. This will put more pressure on the midfielders to defend.
The back line rotations were also interesting. Talia Staude did play a lot and she looks very composed, but when she came in she moved McClernon out to the right. Maybe she’s that good, but I shudder at the notion of moving your best central defender outside. I think the most important position is center defender and marginalizing McClernon is certainly a high stakes move.
At left back, little used McKenna Angotti replaced Petersen. She was a garbage time player last year, so this is a huge step up for her. On the right, in the second half, Ashlynn Serepca filled in. She got some time at right back early in the season last year, so this wasn’t a reach. Serepca is listed as a Forward/Defender by UVa and this is a rare combination. She was one of the top 10-12 recruits last year and a big part why Virginia scored the #4 recruiting class in the nation, but she failed to impress as a forward. Maybe the speed of the college game is a little too much for her up top, but I thought she played better in defense. Lots of great outside backs, from Ashley Cole to Jordi Alba, have been converted forwards and this might be the path Serepca takes.
The player of the match, for me, was Claire Constant, and it wasn’t for her two-goal brace. She played the first half as the outside right back but in the second half she played center mid and she showed good ball control and an intuitive connection with her two central defenders.
On Sunday, UVa faces Liberty in what should be effectively be another tune-up game. Maybe Coach Swanson will have some other lineup wrinkles.