Minnesota didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for the offensive onslaught that has been the Virginia offense this season, and they traversed half the continent to come to Klöckner, but the Gophers have already logged a lot of mile this young season. The word is officially out on the brilliance of Diana Ordonez and Becca Jarrett and Minnesota may have written the blueprint that others will use to contain them.
Every team on our schedule, short of Penn State and Florida State, is going to defend first, attack second. One marker of a “defensive shell” is when the other team marks your guys on their goal kicks and keeper clearances. Yep, that was a big part of Minnesota’s game plan.
Minnesota came out in a very disciplined 4-2-3-1, frequently referred to as the Christmas Tree formation, with two defenders on Ordonez at all times. The right (nominal) attacking mid of the 3 in the 4-2-3-1 was designated as a spy to stop center back Pheobe McClernon’s forays forward. Most teams have opted to allow McClernon a great deal of space as she brings the ball forward, but Minnesota was committed to stopping it. Out on the wing, the defender guarding Jarrett gave her a lot of space and committed to staying in front of her, allowing Jarrett to dribble right at her. Alas, this is something Jarrett does not do well. The plan on the left wing was to allow their superb right back, Nikki Albrecht, to handle Alexa Spaanstra, Courtney Petersen and Alissa Grozak on her own. She was phenomenal and Spaanstra never once beat her to the end line, which has been a major component of the Cavalier offense to date.
For the second time this season – all games we’ve won – an opposing defender has been my choice for Player of the Match. It won’t be the last time. We’re going to force a lot of defenders into playing their best game of the season.
Also a marker for defensive success is the number of blocks the defenders make on our shots, and the Gophers had well over 8 on the game (for some reason I stopped counting at 7.) Sometimes a block means that a defender is willing to throw her body into the ball, but in a collective effort on this day, it meant that the defenders were able to stay between the ball and goal and that’s going to make for a long day for the offense.
The game plan worked to perfection in the first half. Toward the end of the half I noticed more Cavaliers, standing around, shaking their heads and pointing fingers at their teammates. Now, they weren’t fighting or squabbling per se – they haven’t lost yet this year, or suffered any setbacks yet, and this is a close squad that Coach Steve Swanson has assembled – but it was telling that they were getting frustrated. They would go into the half tied and scoreless, a first for the season, and I thought that maybe this would be a good test of their resilience.
The most memorable highlight of the first half was a near miss from Spaanstra in the 35th minute that looked to all of us in the stands that it was a goal. We all celebrated, until we noticed that the players on the field were not celebrating.
The second half started just as slowly as the first, only with the notable absence of McClernon. It was the first time I haven’t seen Phoebe on the field for kick off. Swanson is moving McClernon around this year, usually out to the right back position so that he can get freshman defender Talia Staude into the lineup. On one hand this seems reasonable because McClernon is gifted and versatile, but on the other, it seems strange to me to move your best player, especially when said player plays center back, only the most important position on the field.
This was a tough game for Ordonez as she had one defender draped on her back all game. At times it was like she was a back-to-the-basket center in basketball and she was in the trenches. And the referee allowed play like it was a game in the paint, with lots of holding – at least twice the defender was seen grabbing and pulling on Ordonez’ jersey.
In the 63rd minute, Spaanstra was fouled close to the box. The game to this point had all the hallmarks of a game destined for overtime. Swanson has utilized several designed plays on set pieces from this range over the past two years, and the moment screamed for just such a moment of brilliance. Maybe Swanson wanted to see just what kind of magic Ordonez could create from this dead ball situation, but it was not to be as she hit the ball with probably her worst touch of the season and skied the ball over the backstop netting.
Four minutes later, Sydney Zandi had a shot that, again to those of us in the stands, looked like it was going in easily, only to be blocked off the line. It just looked like it was going to be one of those days.
Then in the 78th minute, Ashlynn Serepca, got the ball, carved out some space and made her best Alexa Spaanstra imitation with the biggest goal of her career: a shot to the top right corner that hit the crossbar and bounced down a foot beyond the end line. This has to be huge confidence boost for Serepca. She came to UVa in the same vaunted recruiting class that included Claire Constant, Jarrett and Spaanstra, rated out of high school almost on par with Spaanstra. And yet while the other three have nailed down starting slots – Spaanstra since day one – Serepca has had to float between the forward line and defense. It had to have been tough on the ego. But for this day, at least, she’s the game winner.
Five minutes, as is Virginia’s wont, a second goal came, again from long distance, from the person of Meg McCool. Last year, in a full season, McCool scored nine goals. This year in just six games, she has amassed five. If it weren’t for blaze that has been Ordonez, McCool would be the team’s leading scorer. It was a fine finish and punished a Gopher defense that lost some focus when Ordonez sat down.
Basketball Note: Men’s basketball walk-on and reigning national champion, Austin Katstra, is a women’s soccer fan. I have been to two games and seen him there both times, and he was caught on camera for game that I wasn’t. Either that, or he’s sweet on one of the women.
Pre Game Note: One of the cultural idiosyncrasies of soccer is the age-old practice of having the starting lineups walking out to midfield accompanied, often hand in hand, with young kids, say 8 or 9 year olds. I don’t know how long this has been a part of the college game, but we’re doing it now. I have to say, it was a treat watching keeper Laurel Ivory with her two girls. I’m sure everyone else on both teams were nice and friendly to the girls, but Ivory was actively talking to and engaging with the girls.
Then after the starting lineup announcement the team was heading back to the bench and the starters were given a t-shirt to throw into the crowd. Most casually tossed the shirts a couple of rows into the stands, many times aiming for a kid, but Meg McCool has a cannon for an arm: she tossed her shirt to the last row before the reserved seating. She was also well on the pitch when she threw it.
We have two games left until the ACC slate begins. I'll preview the ACC season with a mailbag. If you have any questions, drop them to me at: valentine@HoosPlace.com