It was a bad weekend for Virginia Cavaliers sports. Tony Elliott’s wards laid an egg in Champaign. Virginia’s field hockey team had a harder road to hoe as they lost to Northwestern, albeit the #1 team in the country. Women’s soccer had a chance to atone for these losses, but instead the ‘Hoos drew against a very scrappy VCU team on Sunday.
VCU is a quality mid-major program. The Rams won the Atlantic 10 regular season last year, and they came into the game on a five-game undefeated streak having knocked off a fellow ACC team in Pittsburgh. Most middling teams come to Klöckner and bunker down, but lack the ability to transition to attack.
On the day, VCU figured it out in spades. The Rams were assertive, maintained more possession than maybe anyone other that Georgetown (the game was on FloSports, so I didn’t see it) and got the ball behind the Cavalier backline on at least four occasions. Reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Week, Talia Staude, had another blinder of a game. But, in fact, VCU was its own worst enemy. Maybe a dozen times, in possession and in the final third of the field, VCU just gave the ball away. Bad passes, panicked decisions, and at least three very long range, very speculative shots. With better decision-making the Rams might have been able to take this game to Virginia.
For their part, the Cavaliers were not sharp. A couple of times this year Head Coach Steve Swanson has noted that his team was slow in changing the point of attack, and it was on full display today. It wasn’t not helped by Swanson’s preference to start Claire Constant at central midfield. I’ve raised this point and, by now, I’m beating a dead horse.
It’s not helped by the team’s overall deliberate pace of play. When the ball goes out of bounds for a throw-in, you never see a midfielder or forward take the throw quickly (five or six times a season, Alexa Spaanstra might throw it, but that’s it). At one point in the second half, when the game clock was starting to be an issue, Maggie Cagle rushed to the sideline to take a fast throw, and she was waved off. Instead, Sarah Clark meandered up the side to take the throw. By then, every VCU defender was in place. When you are chasing a goal, that’s sub-optimal.
And thirdly, Rebecca Jarrett, who has spent the entirety of her career hugging the sideline, spent the game well inside the right channel. It had to have been by design, but it was curious given that VCU lined up in a 3 – 5 – 2. The way to attack that formation is right inside Virginia’s wheelhouse: keep the wingers wide and the two outside midfielders (or wingbacks) have to stay back to help defend. The way Jarrett set up allowed VCU’s three central defenders to cover her and the Ram midfield got an extra midfielder. And that allowed VCU to possess much more of the ball and play Virginia even in the middle of the pitch.
There were four really good chances in the game and the first fell to VCU 10 minutes into the second half. Anna Bagley sent a fine through ball past Virginia’s defensive line and rather than follow the ball, defender Laney Rouse chose to try and shield VCU’s Kendyl Sarver 10-12 yards off the ball. I don’t know what she was thinking, but Sarver blew by her and had a one-on-one with keeper Kayla White. White made a fabulous kick save and the score remained knotted at 0 – 0.
Spaanstra had a pair of opportunities that she muffed. While I wouldn’t call Spaanstra clinical in front of goal, they were both opportunities that she has buried before, and the misses will surely give her nightmares until Saturday’s game with North Carolina.
Virginia’s best chance came midway through the second half. Lia Godfrey and Haley Hopkins combined to lead a racing Spaanstra down the left sideline. Spaanstra sent the ball in to Hopkins, who had beaten her defender. Hopkins had time on the ball, took one touch, and had only the on-rushing keeper to beat. She should have buried it, but Whitney Horton made an even better save than White’s and the score would remain deadlocked until time ran out.
This is the first year that men and women are playing under the new no-overtime rules. OT would probably have worked to the Cavaliers’ advantage as VCU changed gears in the last 15 minutes trying to preserve the tie. Virginia was knocking on the door, but just couldn’t close the deal.
The Cavaliers get a long week off before ACC play begins with Virginia traveling to Chapel Hill to take on UNC on Saturday. Game time is 6:00pm and will be shown on ACC Network Extra.