2014 ended up being business as usual for the Virginia men’s soccer team. Head coach George Gelnovatch has his team back in the postseason for the 34th consecutive season, a feat that is currently the longest in the NCAA. Now, the Cavaliers are in their second consecutive College Cup.
Gelnovatch has seen a lot in his 19 years in Charlottesville. He has won two ACC Coach of the Year Awards, 4 ACC titles, and one College Cup championship. He has never missed the NCAA tournament, but this year was a little different.
“It was a really strange year,” Glenovatch said. “There were expectations after a College Cup year and we were returning a lot of guys. But what I keep saying is that we’ve been thrown so many curveballs. We were probably without 75-80 percent of our guys at one point.”Virginia did have an interesting season, to say the least. The Cavaliers were decimated by injuries throughout the year to key players like sophomore forward Riggs Lennon, junior forward/midfielder Marcus Salandy-Defour and junior forward Darius Madison. It prevented them from gaining much momentum at any one point, and their wins came in small bunches.
By late September they had gotten it going, starting October with a four-game winning streak and closing out the season by going 5-2-1.They headed into the ACC tournament sitting at 10-6-2 with the eighth overall seed. The Cavaliers defeated Virginia Tech at home before hitting the road for the No. 1-seeded Notre Dame, where they lost 3-0.
Virginia earned the No. 16 seed in the NCAA tournament. It opened with an impressive 3-1 victory against UNCW and were set to hit the road in their quest for back-to-back College Cups. For the first time in their 36 trips to the NCAA tournament, the Cavaliers won two consecutive road games, in rather stunning fashion nonetheless. The Hoos first upset the No. 1 team in the tournament and their ACC foe who sent them home from the ACC tournament, Notre Dame. After the 1-0 victory, they headed to Georgetown, where they again won in an upset against the No. 8-seeded Hoyas by winning a penalty-kick shootout 5-4. And now, for the 12th time in school history, they are back in the College Cup taking on the upstart UMBC Retrievers.
The team is not short on talent. Senior midfielder Eric Bird is the leader of the squad, but he himself has been hit by the injury bug. He has been practicing in preparation for Friday and the hopes are he is good to go. Bird was named to the All-ACC first team after leading the Cavaliers in goals and points. Junior Todd Wharton was named to the All-ACC third team and Jake Rozhansky won All-ACC freshman team honors.
The Cavaliers have the experience and the pedigree needed to pull off their seventh College Cup title. Now, it is just a matter of execution.
“I think there’s four or five guys in our starting lineup that were there [in 2013]." Gelnovatch said. "Just handling the final exams, training this time of year helps with some of the new guys and younger guys for sure, and the coaching staff having been there before knows how to pace the guys and get them ready. I think it gives us an advantage.”