Yesterday, we took a look at what the Virginia women's soccer team has on their roster for the 2011 season.
Today, we'll take a look at the schedule - which includes an astonishing 13 home games - and what the expectations are for the season. Let's get to it.
How the Schedule Looks
To say that Virginia's schedule is difficult would be an understatement, though much of that comes from playing in the absurdly competitive Atlantic Coast Conference. The conference has five teams ranked in the pre-season top 10. Thankfully, one of those five is Virginia, so we don't have to play all five! About the only sign of relief is that the scrimmage this Friday, August 12th, against defending national champion and pre-season #1 team Notre Dame is just that - a scrimmage.
Virginia faces #13 West Virginia next Friday to start the regular season. The 'Hoos lost to the Mountaineers 0-1 last year on the road, but face the border rivals at home this year.
After that tough start, the Cavaliers have an impressively long home stand. Eight more consecutive home games (including two in the Virginia Nike Soccer Classic and one ACC contest) carry the Cavaliers through to the middle of September.
But starting with that last home game, things really heat up. Virginia faces 10 consecutive ACC opponents, four of whom are ranked in the top six nationally. And unfortunately for the Cavaliers, two of the toughest matchups - against #3 North Carolina and #4 Boston College - are road games. They also face #6 Maryland, #5 Florida State and #18 Wake Forest. The contest against the Demon Deacons is the only road match in that last group.
Thankfully, the last four contests of the season - @ NCSU, vs Clemson, vs Virginia Tech, vs Miami - are all against unranked opponents. That should provide Coach Swanson and the ladies with an opportunity to work past injuries, tweak their gameplan and prepare for the upcoming post-season.
What Are the Expectations
Soccer is not - unfortunately for prognosticators like us - the type of sport that is easy to predict by looking at the teams on paper. Much like one fluke run can be the difference in baseball, one fluke goal can be the difference in soccer. But still, on paper, this Virginia Cavaliers team looks like one that will be incredibly competitive again in 2011. Clearly the coaches around the NCAA agree, because they voted Virginia one of the top 10 teams in the country in the pre-season poll.
The West Virginia contest is the only truly tough matchup in the non-conference schedule. The fact that it is at home means I'm going to give the edge to Virginia. I'm banking on the Cavaliers using their exhibitions to work out the kinks involved with filling all the holes left in their lineup that we discussed yesterday. I'm certainly not going to call the rest of the non-conference schedule a cakewalk - nothing's a given in this sport. But I have a hard time seeing the Cavaliers with more than one loss heading into the start of ACC play on September 15th. So my prediction at that point is 7-1.
I'm going to go ahead and say it right now: We're sweeping our home conference schedule this year. That will include wins over #6 Maryland and #5 Florida State. Then I think we split our four road contests - losing at #4 Boston College and #3 North Carolina before taking down unranked Duke, #18 Wake Forest and unranked NCSU.
That would put us at 8-2 in the conference and 15-3 overall. I think we'll end up as a 2-seed again in the NCAA tournament, but we stand a good chance of advancing further this year. The Ohio State loss is still very clear in the returning players' memories and will be motivation to drive the team through to the final four.
So with all that said, head out to Klockner Stadium this fall and watch this team play. They're going to be competing with the top teams in the land - and beating a lot of them!