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Why Virginia women’s soccer is set up to win its first National Championship this season

A look at where we are....

It is a privilege to be able to bring coverage of the women’s soccer team to the virtual pages of Streaking The Lawn. This team is good and they are a joy to watch. Already this season, the Wahoos are 4-0 with wins against George Mason, Loyola Maryland, #11 Georgetown, and Fairleigh Dickinson. Tonight they kickoff against James Madison which we’ll have covered here on STL.

Now, to get into why this team is so dangerous.

Head Coach Steve Swanson has been at the helm for 22 years and he is surely on the short-list of the best coaches to have never won the national championship. Heavy is the head that wears that crown. And similarly, the Virginia Cavaliers are probably the best program never to have won a national title.

But this could be the year of the breakthrough, because this roster is loaded:

· Super Seniors Claire Constant, Rebecca Jarrett and Alexa Spaanstra all have returned for their fifth year.

· Jarrett deserves her own bullet point because she looks fully recovered from the injury that robbed her of all but four games last season.

· Alexis Theoret proved she can replace the departed Taryn Torres in the middle.

· Haley Hopkins, who transferred in last year, gives Virginia coverage for the somewhat-surprising early departure of Diana Ordonez. Hopkins had a hat-trick this past weekend, taking less than 15 minutes to knock in three goals.

· Cayla White, who muffed her one major play in the first four games, is nevertheless a fine shot-stopper and should be able to replace Laurel Ivory’s quality in goal.

· Last year’s first-off-the-bench forwards Kira McGuire and Cam Lexow appear to have left the team and have been replaced by a bevy of newcomers who had their moments and leave me confident they will bring a greater spark off the bench.

· For the third year in a row, head coach Steve Swanson has brought in an impact transfer, with Chloe Japic (Baylor) performing the honors this year. Japic made the crucial pass to Spaanstra for Virginia’s first goal of the season.

· Defenders Samar Guidry and Laney Rouse gained valuable exposure and experience playing for the national U20 team this summer.

· And perhaps most importantly for this early season, Swanson signed Maggie Cagle, who has been a revelation. Cagle has four assists in her first four games, and for small sample size bon mots, she has made the game winning assist in the first three games this season. Cagle doesn’t strike me as technical as other former standouts who have, well, stood out, since minute one (Lia Godfrey and Alexa Spaanstra). But she’s just in the right place at the right time. I have had three people, all of whom follow the youth game closely, assure me that Maggie is a gamer.

*** As an aside, Cagle is the daughter of Kelly Cagle who was the head coach of the women’s team at Virginia Tech earlier this century. Cagle knew enough to eschew Blacksburg for Charlottesville and she has made her presence felt immediately.

The ACC is the best women’s soccer conference in the country. Currently four teams – Virginia, Florida State, North Carolina and Duke sit in the top 10 – and at times over the past three years, there have been seven ACC schools in the top 25. This meatgrinder has prepped the squad well for the NCAA tournament, as until last year, Virginia had the second longest consecutive streak of making it to the Sweet 16. Over the last 10 years Virginia is the highest overall scoring team in the country, but three years ago it was the defense’s proficiency that led to a 9-week stay at Number 1.

This squad is on the short list of teams that can win it all. It helps that Florida State, Virginia’s nemesis of the past decade, has been gutted by the departure of coach Mark Krikorian and what could have been their contingent of Super Seniors.

Virginia is deep, well coached, and doesn’t make mistakes. If there’s a recurring deficiency it’s that we squander lots of chances in front of goal. This has derailed the team before and it could prove the undoing of the team this year. But this year might be different: there’s more spark of the bench this year so maybe we’ll get the goals needed en-route to a national title.

It will be a fun ride. I hope you’ll join me.