Dec. 5, 2009

By Harold Gutmann
Special to

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Three years ago, Wake Forest made its first appearance in the College Cup. The Demon Deacons have been back every year since.

"It's just a tremendous experience," coach Jay Vidovich said. "It's something you work for all the time, and to get there once, you just want to always go back."

By defeating UCLA 2-0 in the quarterfinals Saturday, Wake Forest became the ninth team to advance to the College Cup in four straight years and the first since Maryland in 2005.

Goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald, who made four saves to post the shutout, and Zack Schilawski, who scored the winner with 37:47 remaining, are now a part of the winningest senior class in school history. They have posted a 78-10-10 record with three ACC regular-season titles and the 2007 NCAA championship.

But a return trip wasn't inevitable. The Demon Deacons returned just three starters off last year's semifinalists — Fitzgerald, midfielder Corben Bone and defender Ike Opara.

"For us, it's something we worked on,” Vidovich said. “We wanted to do it. It was in our goals since we lost last year to North Carolina in the College Cup. (But) we had no idea when we had our first couple practices that we would be where we are now."

Wake Forest went scoreless against North Carolina in last year's semifinal, a performance it hopes not to repeat this time. But it won't be easy to score this year. The Demon Deacons’ next opponent is Virginia, which hasn't allowed a goal in 1,107 minutes.

"We're one of many that have a tough time scoring against Virginia," Vidovich said. "They have 11 straight shutouts. We have total respect for them."

Wake Forest was scoreless in two games against the Cavaliers this season, losing 1-0 at home and then falling in penalty kicks after 110 minutes in the semifinals of the ACC tournament.

"A lot of tough battles with those guys," Schilawski said. "They're not a fun team to play against. They're very athletic in the back, very tough to score on, but for a team to beat us three times in one season, they're going to have their hands full."

The regular-season loss to Virginia broke a 35-game home winning streak, the fourth-largest in NCAA history, providing further motivation to the Deacons. And the ACC tournament loss happened at WakeMed Soccer Park, which is the host site next weekend.

Wake brings some significant firepower to the game, including Schilawski, whose 11 NCAA tournament goals are just two off the record held by Virginia graduate A.J. Wood; Austin da Luz, who holds the school assists record with 38; and Andy Lubahn, who owns the freshman record for goals in a season after scoring his 10th against UCLA.

"To be honest, a lot of my goals have been easy finishes for me," Lubahn said. "Team possession and an easy finish. The kind of attacking soccer we play here at Wake, it's been hard not to score a lot of goals."

Lubahn is one of the players who was drawn to Wake Forest because of its newfound tradition of College Cup appearances.

"When I was looking at colleges, it was Wake and everybody else," Lubahn said. "I'm just really happy to be able to help the seniors get back to the Final Four and start our legacy here."