Fairleigh Dickinson made it to the NCAA tournament in the most tried and true of ways. Playing in a single-entrant conference, the Knights got hot right at the right time and won their conference tournament, knocking off the top two seeds in the process. As a team, they had surrendered 22 goals in their first ten games, but they turned the season around and yielded only a pair of goals over their last 8 games. (Of course, giving up five goals to the Virginia Cavaliers will bloat the goals-against total pretty significantly.)
FDU did benefit in one significant way from having played the Virginia Cavaliers at Klöckner previously. They knew the pitch and they looked comfortable playing Virginia. It was always going to be an up-hill climb for the Knights. #14 seeds do usually take it on the chin playing #3 seeds at home, but FDU did not appear to be overwhelmed by the moment.
But Fairleigh Dickinson simply was outclassed by the Cavaliers. They came out and played hard, they really did, but mostly what they succeeded at was fouling Virginia. They would commit 18 fouls on the day, receive four yellow cards and one red card, and surrender two penalties. The game was very chippy as Virginia was drawn into the foul-fest committing an uncharacteristic eight fouls (UVa committed the second fewest fouls in the regular season) as well three yellow card offenses of their own. And there could have been more, both in terms of total fouls and cards.
Virginia has conceded four very early goals this season, and while all of those teams victimizing Virginia were better than Fairleigh Dickinson, I nevertheless breathed a deep sigh of relief when we made it to the 5-minute mark. As I was writing that note down in my book, Virginia’s Maggie Cagle made a great, driving run into the box, beat her second defender and was lining up to shoot when she was fouled. PK #1. Haley Hopkins stepped up to take the kick, but FDU keeper Malene Nielson got a great jump on the ball and blocked the kick. FDU couldn’t clear the rebound, the ball went out wide right and it was collected by Cagle. She spun her defender, got baseline and sent in a soft cross to Hopkins, who, being given the opportunity for immediate redemption, headed the ball home. Officially that is Cagle’s sixth game-winning assist of the season but I still think she has one more that has been misattributed to Lia Godfrey.
Virginia would end up controlling 69% of the possession for the remainder of the half even if they would not score again. Defender Chloe Japic, who had a yellow of her own in the half, made the defensive play of the game with 50 seconds left in the half. The FDU winger got past her in the box and was looking to cross the ball (and she had a target at the penalty spot) but Japic had a lovely slide tackle and she was first up after the play and retained possession.
The second half was more contentious than the first. Cagle picked up a deserved yellow just five minutes in and FDU countered with another of their own just 7 minutes later. The dam broke for FDU 14 minutes into the half when Alexa Spaanstra was running onto another beautiful Cagle feed and she was tripped up at the penalty spot. This time Spaanstra took the kick, and while Neilson made another great jump on the ball, she went the wrong way as Spaanstra converted. 2 – 0 and the game was effectively over. Well, except for the fouls.
Two yellow cards in 13 minutes to FDU’s Paula Reuss got her sent off and Fairleigh Dickinson was playing a man down. It was too much, Virginia was running rampant and head coach Steve Swanson cleared the bench. Neilson made two lovely saves on 1 v 1 breakaways from Meredith McDermott and Degen Miller to keep the game close for a while. With 7 minutes left, a Sarah Clark corner found Talia Staude at the far edge of the 6-yard box, and Staude had a lovely header for the score. 30 seconds after that McDermott collected the ball at midfield, and doing her best Rebecca Jarrett impression, took the ball to the house, slotting her shot into goal after a lovely run.
Swanson had already made the most important coaching decision of the game in removing Cagle 15 minutes earlier – who was already on a yellow – and he emptied the rest of his bench.
With the win, Virginia advances to the second round – location and times to be determined by the result of Penn State’s game on Sunday – to take on Xavier who shocked #6 Tennessee 4 – 1. The game was 1 – 1 in overtime, but golden goal has been eliminated so both 10-minutes overtime periods have to be played. And Xavier got the jump on he Volunteers to take the upset win.
Missing: Claire Constant did not play today. I scanned the sidelines every time the camera panned that way, but I did not see her. Laney Rouse performed admirably in her stead alongside Talia Staude, but I think Constant is the stronger defender and UVA will need her as the competition gets stronger.
Neither Lacey McCormick nor Brianna Jablonowski played either and they’ve missed long stretches of the season. Both were on the sideline, but both were wearing heavy track suits, like the kind the fourth-string keeper wears. You know, the player who is not expecting to go in. I have to presume they are injured because McCormick was starting just six games ago and Jablonowski had established herself as the first forward off the bench once Jarrett went down. If they are injured, their depth will be missed.
All-ACC Snubs: All-ACC selections were revealed this week, and once again the coaches missed in picking defenders. There were 34 selections in the three All-ACC teams and only six defenders were chosen. Every team plays four or five in the back, so in real life the coaches know how important their defenders are, but they won’t acknowledge them in the awards. The coaches did improve a bit this year. Last year only five defenders were so honored, so there is some progress here, and four of the All-Freshmen selected were defenders. But Talia Staude continues to be ignored. UNC’s Tori Hanson had a fine year and UNC lost a raft of defenders to injury this year. Much the same could be said for Florida State’s Heather Payne. Clemson’s Megan Bornkamp is her team’s finest player. But I don’t think the three of them are the defender that Staude is and it’s a shame that Talia hasn’t gotten a whiff of selection in her four years at Virginia.