I was recruited to play at Radford. My two favorite cousins went to Radford. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the school, moreso than any other Virginia school. The Virginia women did not get the memo about my closeted sympathies, pummeling the Highlanders in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the 3 – 0 score line indicates.
In a game where the Cavaliers racked up a 34 – 5 shots advantage and a similarly lopsided tally for corners, 9 – 0, Radford did hang tough and it took Virginia over 22 minutes to breach the 6-at-the-back Highlanders (apparently there is something of a Scottish heritage in Southwestern Virginia). By this time in the game, Virginia had already had 9 shots and forced Radford keeper Courtney Kaplan into three saves.
Sydney Zandi, continuing her fine run of play over the past couple of games, scored the game winner off a nicely dropped-off ball from center forward Diana Ordonez. Ordonez has struggled a bit as the central striker when she’s asked to be the target and lay off the ball to trailing runners. But on this moment, she fulfilled the traditional role as a #9, playing the ball to Zandi, who struck it first time into the corner of the goal.
And then the most surprising thing happened. There was almost no reaction from the Virginia players to the goal. None. When men score, they preen, but the women are usually more likely to engage in a group hug. Even compared to these more serene celebrations, the teams reaction to Zandi’s goal was more similar to the reaction at the tail end of a 7 – 0 romp, for example, but certainly not to the first, all-important, goal of the NCAA tournament. It was a chilly night – and I have played in games where no one celebrated goals because we all just wanted to get off the pitch – but it wasn’t that cold.
No, I think this speaks to the team’s purpose of competing for the NCAA title this year. Before the game Coach Steve Swanson spoke about the team’s hunger to go further and deeper in the tournament than perhaps recent iterations of this team have. The title that no one wants is of “best team to never win a championship” yet it is a mantle that these Virginia women have to wear. I started out with modest hopes for this year’s campaign, and with a win in the next round, we’ll have met my initial expectations. But as the season has progressed and our defense proved to be a rock, I have adjusted accordingly. I’m guessing it is the same for the women, and before the injuries to Courtney Petersen and Laurel Ivory, we were every bit the equal of UNC and Stanford. The eight consecutive weeks at #1 attest to the team’s excellence.
But… the team has been ravaged, as I have noted before. In the ACC title game, Swanson changed team formation. We ended the Duke game with forward/midfielders Alexa Spaanstra and Ashlynn Serepca as the outside backs. For this game, Swanson started out with forward Alissa Gorzak deputizing for Petersen. Late in the first half, winger Becca Jarrett logged 12 minutes or so at left back. That was a bold move, that one, moving one of the more feared players in the ACC back to defense. Or it was a sign of desperation.
The good news is that Anna Sumpter returned to the team and got a good long run. We’re still awaiting Claire Constant’s return. We have a long week before our next game, this Friday vs Washington State, so maybe Constant will finally be ruled game ready.
In the meantime, every player has to buckle down, as they have since Petersen’s loss, but the stakes have gotten larger. Maybe the lack of celebrations indicates a firmer resolve – Serepca scored the second goal and hers was just as muted, while there was little more excited for Gorzak’s goal (but it was her first goal of the season – and a renewed sense of purpose could offset the loss of a key player or two. The team, and fans, are solidly behind backup keeper Michaela Moran and her unenviable task of replacing Ivory. One of the loudest cheers of the night came on a fine Moran save on a rare Radford scoring opportunity. Hopefully this will give her a boost of confidence that will last through a long run in the tourney.
Makenna Angotti came in the late in both halves and played well, but it was strange that she came in for Phoebe McClernon. McClernon is a 2nd team All American this year, and while it is more of a reputation vote this year, she is still one of the more stellar defenders in the country. It was telling that Swanson would choose to remove McClernon when he still had out-of-position forwards manning the left back position. I’ve been watching McClernon closely – she’s my favorite player on the team – and I don’t think she’s injured. She must be in her own special Coach Swanson-doghouse hell.
Next Up: Washington State on Friday, 22 November against Washington State. The Cougars delivered one of the few upsets in the first round, knocking off #14 Memphis. Game time is 7pm at Klockner.