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State of the program: Virginia women’s soccer

Head coach Steve Swanson seeks to build on a promising 2021-22 season

Soccer: Women’s College Cup Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

​​As the 2021-2022 athletic year has come to an end for the Virginia Cavaliers, we at Streaking the Lawn will be running a state of the program series for the numerous athletic programs that are a part of the university.

In the past few weeks we took a look at the men’s lacrosse program, the women’s basketball program, the men’s basketball program, the baseball program, and the football program by evaluating the confidence level in four critical categories: success over the last five years, coaching staff, current roster makeup, and the future roster/recruiting. The four degrees of confidence are, in descending order, extreme, solid, mild, and low.

Today, we take a look at the Virginia women’s soccer program: a team that has consistently been one of the best in college soccer for most of its history. The program is coming off a disappointing NCAA tournament loss, but has indisputably had more success than almost any of its competitors over their recent history.

Confidence in performance over the last 5 years: Extreme

The run of success that Virginia women’s soccer has experienced under head coach Steve Swanson is extremely impressive, and the last five years have been no exception. Swanson, along with a crop of talented players including star forward Diana Ordoñez, has led his team to four Sweet Sixteen berths and two undefeated ACC seasons in the last five years.

There has certainly been some disappointment along the way – most notably in 2021, when the ‘Hoos spent a lengthy swath of the season ranked #1 in the nation before losing the ACC championship game to eventual national champion Florida State and unceremoniously bowing out in the Sweet Sixteen in a 1-0 defeat against BYU.

However, the team’s improbable 2020 run is good enough to cancel out any postseason disappointments. Virginia finished third in the ACC at 8-3-1 in a strange COVID-shortened season where the NCAA tournament was postponed to the spring. When play resumed in the spring of 2021, Virginia went 2-1-1 and earned an unseeded at-large NCAA tournament berth. The team proceeded to allow just one goal in five NCAA tournament games, advancing all the way to the tournament semifinals before falling to overall #1 seed Florida State in penalty kicks.

Confidence in coaching staff: Extreme

There are very few women’s soccer programs in the country that wouldn’t trade their current head coach for Steve Swanson in a heartbeat. Swanson has piloted the ‘Hoos to two ACC tournament championships and three NCAA College Cup appearances during his tenure and built one of the most consistent programs in college soccer. Virginia has made it to at least the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament in 16 of their last 17 seasons.

There are nits to pick if you try hard enough — specifically, the lack of postseason titles relative to regular-season success. Of Swanson’s three teams that went undefeated in ACC play, just one made it past the Sweet Sixteen; neither of his ACC championship winning teams advanced to even the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. However, any complaining about such a successful run for the program falls flat.

The only thing Swanson hasn’t yet achieved is a national championship. Beyond that, he has nothing left to prove. The Virginia women’s soccer program is in extremely good hands.

Confidence in current roster: Solid

Of the four categories here, this is the only place where I can relatively knock the program. There is a little bit of uncertainty regarding next year’s team, most notably because of the gaping hole left by Diana Ordoñez’s departure. The star forward won ACC Offensive Player of the Year in 2021, then chose to forego her final season of eligibility and enter the NWSL draft, where she was selected sixth overall by the North Carolina Courage.

It’s unclear who will slot in to fill her role for Virginia offensively — or if anyone can replicate the ACC’s leading goal-scorer’s impact. Second team All-ACC goalkeeper Laurel Ivory and third team All-ACC midfielder Taryn Torres also departed for the NWSL after exhausting their eligibility. So there are definite question marks on the 2022 roster.

That being said, the ‘Hoos also return a majority of their 2021 team which spent a significant portion of the season as the best team in the country and went undefeated in ACC play, winning eight of their nine games. So while they probably got worse this offseason, “worse” for this roster is still “very good.”

Confidence in future roster/recruiting: Extreme

This year, Virginia will bring in the ninth-best recruiting class in the country, including three top-75 recruits and two top-30 recruits according to Top Drawer Soccer. The class’s two standouts are midfielder Jill Flammia, a midfielder from near Richmond ranked 26th nationally, and forward/midfielder Maggie Cagle from Phoenix, who is ranked 30th nationally.

Beyond that, Virginia has established a tradition of bringing in and developing talent. Virginia alumni are mainstays on the NWSL’s professional clubs and national teams across the world, especially the United States; defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Emily Sonnett are both current members of the U.S. women’s national team.

As long as the program maintains its current trajectory, there’s no reason to doubt that Virginia will remain one of the most talented and cohesive teams in college soccer while continuing to push for a national championship.