Cavs streak into ACC play
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- A late rally in regulation and an overtime winner gave No. 9 Virginia a 3-2 win against No. 2 Boston College on Sunday and provided Cavaliers coach Steve Swanson career win No. 250, making him one of just 22 Division I coaches to reach that milestone.
Swanson looks pretty good for a guy with 250 wins. He looks even better for a guy who has died 1,000 soccer deaths, which is to say, spent the past 11 seasons living life in the ACC.
"This isn't for the mentally weak, this conference," Swanson said after the win, with the chuckle of a man too exhausted to laugh any harder. "I'll tell you that; it is not for the mentally weak. You've got to have a strong mentality, you've got to be very mentally pliable.
"You're going to have wins you get that maybe don't come as easy as you think, and you're going to have losses that maybe you didn't feel like you should get them, but you've got to be able to rebound, you've got to be able to battle."
Whether Sunday's game proves to be a turning point remains to be seen, just as it remains to be seen if Virginia has the offensive firepower and defensive cohesion to reach the College Cup for the first time since 1991 or even extend a streak of five consecutive trips to at least the third round of the NCAA tournament.
But it's tough to argue that these Cavaliers don't have the requisite mental fortitude to make the most of what they are.
Sunday's game could have been loss No. 122 for Swanson, and a particularly painful one at that. Virginia traveled to Maryland on Thursday, the starting point for one of the most difficult stretches on any schedule in the country, a span of six games in 22 days against teams ranked in the top 25: Maryland, Boston College, North Carolina (this Friday), Duke, Wake Forest and Florida State.
Playing through the remnants of the storms that drenched the East Coast last week, the Cavaliers dropped a 3-2 decision to the Terrapins on Thursday, twice rallying from one-goal deficits before succumbing on Danielle Hubka's late winner. In addition to the loss in the standings, just the fourth in 32 games against Maryland, the Cavaliers lost forward Caroline Miller (4 goals, 2 assists) for an undetermined length of time due to an injury.
And with 14 minutes to play Sunday, Virginia appeared headed for a two-loss weekend. The Cavaliers trailed Boston College 2-1 and had ceded large swaths of the field to the Eagles for stretches of the game. But with sophomore Erica Hollenberg filling in for Miller (Hollenberg's flick assist on Virginia's opening goal is worth a second and third look), Lauren Alwine launching crosses like tennis balls in the old "American Gladiators" obstacle course, Meghan Lenczyk and Sinead Farrelly disrupting Boston College's back line, and players like Colleen Flanagan rising to the occasion with a header off Alwine's corner kick to tie the game 2-2, the Cavaliers persevered.
Now a senior, or fourth-year as they prefer to be called here, Lenczyk already has has nine goals, two shy of her career high. She's a prototypical center forward, combining good size and good finishing instincts with sheer unflappability, so it's a little surprising to hear her say confidence, not conditioning or touch, is the area of her game that has grown the most.
"I think it just comes with playing well and getting more comfortable," Lenczyk said. "I think as a first-year I was pretty nervous, and if I'd mess up, I'd be really down on myself. And over the years, I've learned, you've got to just let it slide. You're going to make mistakes; nobody is perfect."
And so while it wasn't a perfect weekend for Virginia, it was a perfect example of who the Cavaliers are. And when Lenczyk chested down Farrelly's pass just to one side of the penalty spot late in the first overtime, she looked like someone entirely comfortable with the pressure of the moment as she put home the winner.
"This is one of our best Virginia teams, mentality-wise," Lenczyk. "Against Maryland, we were down, kept coming back, coming back. It was a really close game, and then we come back from a tough game -- and to get a win like this just says a lot about the players on our team and our mental toughness."
Around the nation
• As good as the ACC and Pac-10 are when it comes to soccer supremacy, only one conference can claim multiple championship programs. And with three titles in the past nine seasons between Portland and Santa Clara, it's not as if the West Coast Conference is clinging to ancient history on that count. But beyond the two flagship programs, the present looks pretty good for a conference that rarely gets the credit it deserves.
Pepperdine made the week's biggest waves, beating UCLA 1-0 on Friday and ending the Bruins' 73-match home unbeaten streak. Michelle Manning's goal in the 23rd minute proved to be the winner. The Waves tied Cal State Bakersfield 1-1 on Sunday but are 3-0-2 in their past five entering WCC play and own a 2-1-1 record against Pac-10 competition.
Bouncing back from a 1-4-2 dry spell, San Diego knocked off USC by a 1-0 score for the second time this season on Friday (the two teams also met to open the season) and followed that with a 2-1 win against Cal State Fullerton on Sunday. Junior Stephanie Ochs scored both goals against Fullerton and leads the way for the Toreros with five goals for a team that also has a win against Big East co-leader Marquette to its credit.
Topping it all off, Saint Mary's took a point from California with a 2-2 draw, easing the sting of 4-1 and 4-0 defeats the past two times the programs met in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
Portland (which beat Oregon and Washington) and Santa Clara (which lost 2-0 against Stanford) will be there in November, but the WCC race shapes up as one with more than enough depth to merit at least three, and possibly more, NCAA tournament bids.
• Alabama sits atop the SEC West standings after two weeks of conference play, a rather remarkable reversal of fortune for the program under third-year coach Todd Bramble. The Crimson Tide went 1-0-1 on their first conference road swing, tying LSU 0-0 on Friday and beating Arkansas 2-1 on Sunday. Sophomore Lindsey Sillers scored her first career goal in the win against Arkansas and became the sixth Tide player to score this season in the process (they had just seven players score all last season). The 3-0-1 SEC record marks the best conference start for the Tide since 1995, the second year of the program's existence and a time when the SEC was still finding its soccer footing.
This week brings either a potential wake-up call or coming-out party, depending on your point of view, with SEC East powers Florida (which scored 10 goals in sweeping Ole Miss and Mississippi State) and South Carolina (which matched the Gators with 10 goals against the same two foes) coming to Tuscaloosa. But the division leader has earned at least a day or two to savor that label.
It wasn't all bad news for the Pac-10. In addition to Stanford's win against Santa Clara to remain unbeaten, Oregon State defeated Weber State and Utah to improve to 8-1-1 this season, the best start in program history for last season's surprise NCAA Sweet 16 entrant. Florida's McKenzie Barney scored in both wins for the Gators, extending her streak to eight consecutive home games with a goal. She leads the SEC with nine goals this season. Marquette's 5-0-0 start in the Big East marks its best performance since joining the conference in 2005, all the more impressive considering four of the wins this season have come on the road, including Friday at Villanova and Sunday at Georgetown. The goals keep coming for Notre Dame after a slow start to the season. The Irish beat Syracuse 3-1 and St. John's 4-1 to remain unbeaten in the Big East, getting four goals from Melissa Henderson. They have 16 goals in their past four games, three more than they had in their first eight games. Oklahoma State still has some ground to cover as the Cowgirls chase the program's record unbeaten streak, but not nearly as much ground as most of the Big 12 has to make up in the standings against the league's lone remaining unbeaten. Wins at Missouri and Iowa State over the weekend made it 10 games in a row without a loss, three shy of the program record. Krista Lopez scored a pair of goals to give her 11 on the season, five shy of Yolanda Odenyo's OSU record.
Graham Hays covers women's college soccer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.