- Graham Hays, espnW.com
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- It's not just that there are no easy games in the ACC, long the nation's premier conference in women's soccer. There aren't even many easy minutes.
Playing for the first time since inheriting the highest ranking in program history, No. 2 Boston College was 14 minutes from victory against No. 9 Virginia on Sunday when it surrendered a lead for the first time this season. Soon thereafter, not quite seven minutes into the first overtime period, BC also had its first loss of the season, a 3-2 defeat that dropped the Eagles to 9-1-1 on the season and 2-1-0 in the ACC.
BC bounced back after conceding an early goal, created a steady flow of scoring chances and had the better of play for long stretches during Sunday's game. The Eagles were far from perfect, but they played well enough to beat a lot of teams. It's just that with four teams ranked in the top 10, and seven in the top 25, the ACC offers a lot of opponents who aren't a lot of teams.
In a great conference, it doesn't take a bad game to seal your fate, just a few misplaced moments.
Previously nearly flawless, allowing just five goals in its first 10 games and keeping six clean sheets, BC's back line struggled to deal with Virginia's 4-3-3 attack in the 18-yard box, allowing one goal off a corner and two off sustained Cavaliers possession, including Virginia senior Meghan Lenczyk's winner from close range in overtime on a scramble following a throw-in.
"When you play a good team like this and you have a couple of lapses in the box when you lose marks, they're going to be able to punish you," BC coach Alison Foley said. "We'll take a look at it, we'll address it and we'll get better from it. We've got to tighten things up a little bit in our box, especially back post.
"It's one game. We'll keep going forward."
Going forward wasn't a problem on the field Sunday. Virginia took an early lead on Lauren Alwine's goal in the fifth minute, but the Eagles evened the score when Victoria DiMartino, making full use of a no-call that went in her favor on a challenge against Virginia's Kika Toulouse, put home a cross from Amy Caldwell in the 20th minute. BC finished the first half tied on the scoreboard but owning an edge in shots (8-5), corner kicks (7-3) and the more subjective category of momentum.
Sophomore Kristie Mewis was particularly effective setting up chances in the first 45 minutes, showing the kind of passing touch and timing that makes her a seasoned international with the United States youth national teams.
Yet in a trend that began with Brooke Knowlton giving Virginia keeper Chantel Jones too much of the ball to see on a save from close range in the opening minute and carried through to freshman Patrice Vettori sending a one-timer right at Jones in overtime, the Eagles couldn't capitalize on a multitude of chances.
DiMartino gave her team a 2-1 lead in the 57th minute with a strike from 30 yards that kissed off the post, her 11th goal of the season, but the two shots cleared off the line by Virginia defenders minutes earlier summed up the day far better.
"The good thing is we can create a lot of different chances from a lot of different people," Foley said. "We just need to do a better job of putting away those chances. But I thought we moved the ball well, I thought our defending in the midfield was excellent. We created some really good chances; we've just got to put them away."
The back line also took a hit of potentially more long-term consequence when senior cocaptain and fullback Hannah Cerrone went down hard on a challenge while making a run up the right side midway through the second half. Cerrone left the field, then returned briefly but was clearly favoring her left arm and didn't take the field for overtime. She had a sling on the arm after the game, protecting what Foley described as a shoulder injury of undetermined severity.
"I'm not sure exactly how bad yet," Foley said. "Bad enough that ... she wanted to go in, but she can't move her arm. I just didn't think it was in her best welfare or the team's best interest."
If Cerrone misses any games, junior Natalie Crutchfield will likely fill in, as she did late in Sunday's game.
The disappointment of Sunday's ending aside, taking nine of a possible 12 points out of a four successive road games, including the program's first win at North Carolina and wins at Rutgers and NC State, qualifies as a success for the Eagles. But the road to a conference championship doesn't get a great deal easier with a return home, where BC hosts No. 7 Maryland on Thursday night. The Terrapins edged Virginia 3-2 in College Park, Md., on Thursday.
"I think they're a very athletic team," Foley said of Maryland. "Jasmyne Spencer up top has Natalie's speed and she's really good on the ball too. She can turn; she can pass. I think they're very athletic, and they're riding a lot of confidence -- they just beat Virginia. It's a team that I think is playing well and is confident. That'll be a game where we can turn around and rebound."
In the NCAA tournament, a championship team plays no more than four games against the top 16 teams in the nation. Depending on how things break with regular-season rankings and conference tournament draws, BC might play twice that many games against teams ranked in the top 16 before even getting to the NCAA tournament.
"You've got to be able to take the good with the bad because that's what is going to happen in this league," Virginia coach Steve Swanson said.
There's rarely ever shame in losing at Virginia, and that was certainly the case Sunday based on the effort the Cavaliers offered. That there was some disappointment in how this loss unfolded speaks volumes about what BC expects of itself this season.
"There's a lot of good soccer games, ACC games, to still play," Foley said. "Nobody is going all the way without losing. We're fine."
Graham Hays covers women's college soccer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.
No. 2 Boston College edged by No. 9 Virginia in women's soccer.