What did Steve Swanson tell his team at halftime?
The Virginia Cavaliers were away, playing on the North Carolina Tar Heels’ home turf, and were down 2 – 0 as they trudged into the locker room. The game wasn’t really close and the halftime stats fully encapsulated the futility of the women on the pitch: Zero shots on goal, zero corners taken.
Claire Constant’s play in the center of the field was again making me question Swanson’s sanity in playing her there. Rebecca Jarrett had two turnovers (one particularly egregious) that led directly to UNC goals. Hailey Hopkins was getting completely owned whenever she tried to hold up the ball. Starting in her biggest game ever, Kayla White’s distribution was, to borrow an English phrase, shambolic. And it was like Alexa Spaanstra wasn’t even on the pitch.
At the half, I told my wife that at least the game was over quickly. How wrong I was. I’ve always envisioned the biblical Lazarus staggering out of the tomb, his hands and feet covered in embalming cloths, shielding his eyes from the sun. Well, the Cavaliers didn’t come out staggering. They came out roaring.
It didn’t take more than two or three minutes for Virginia to take control of the game. The ‘Hoos won two 50 – 50 balls in the second minute, which was probably as many as they won the entire first half. They connected on the passes that they’d been tossing away in the first half. Alexis Theoret was back where she should be in the center of midfield. There was life in the Cavaliers’ lineup.
Nine minutes in, Jarrett atoned for her mistakes.
She collected the ball wide right and cut in past Tar Heel defender Tessa Dellarose, who gave chase but never caught her. Jarrett picked up her head and looked off Tori Hanson and froze her, and then blew by Julia Dorsey, and from outside of the box, nestled the ball into the right corner. Beating three defenders was not only the pick-me-up the team so desperately needed, but it was payback for UNC’s second goal when redshirt freshman Ally Sentnor — the #1 scholastic player two years ago — similarly abused four Cavalier defenders before slotting it past White.
Four minutes later, Virginia won its first corner and, in a sign of things to come, Lia Godfrey took it. It was nicely cut out by the Carolina keeper, but I’ve been wanting to see Theoret take corners. Two minutes later, Godfrey went to the same spot and drilled a second corner. This time Lacey McCormack won the header and directed it to the awaiting Spaanstra who re-directed it into the back of the net. Last game out, Virginia tied VCU and Spaanstra had a chance with a header which she shanked wide. This time, in a bigger game, Spaanstra got the goal and knotted the game up, 2 – 2.
61' | UVA 2, UNC 2— Virginia Women's Soccer (@UVAWomenSoccer) September 17, 2022
TIE IT UP ALEXA SPAANSTRA!
Lia Godfrey's corner isn't cleared with a header and Lacey McCormack flicks a header toward frame that Spaanstra finishes!#GoHoos ⚔️ | #ALLIN⚽️ pic.twitter.com/7rUx3lGruo
The final goal came with 18 minutes left to play with Lia Godfrey starting a 30 yard give and go with Maggie Cagle. Cagle, who is playing with a guile that belies her youth, waited on the ball, allowed Godfrey to catch up, and then slipped it to her. After Jarrett had beaten the UNC keeper to the right, Godfrey drove the ball and slipped it just inside the left post. 3 – 2 to the good guys and that’s how the game would end. Regular readers know that I’m keeping score, but that’s Maggie Cagle’s 5th game winning assist. In nine games.
Godfrey and Jarrett put on a master class on how to finish. It is incredibly difficult to strike balls that hard, from that distance, on the turf, and just inches from the posts.
Just seconds before this goal, Constant had come back in at center midfield, and her second half was inspirational. She was a Phoenix rising from the ashes as she won every ball in the center of the pitch. If there was a single player who cemented the win, it was Constant.
Like her, Hopkins was night and day in the second as well. She had several driving runs right down the heart of the Tar Heel defense — the kind Samar Guidry used to make – the last of which took her wide inside the penalty box. She could have taken a shot, but the angle wasn’t great. So, instead, she turned around and took the ball to the corner flag where the ‘Hoos put on a master class in killing off a game. Hopkins, Laney Rouse, and Jarrett ran over a minute off the clock, winning three throw-ins in the process.
The magnitude of this win is enormous. At UNC, playing in the best park in collegiate soccer, and with a standing-room only type crowd, UVA shook off a disastrous first half and knocked off a top notch UNC squad. Carolina women’s soccer is arguably the greatest dynasty in collegiate sports with coach Anson Dorrance having won 22 national championships. This was a team that had never lost a regular season game in which it held a multi-goal lead. Never. Until now.
But the unsung play of the game came from Lia Godfrey. Sam Meza, who is probably the best player on this Carolina team, got the ball deep behind the Cavaliers defensive line with three minutes left to play. Godfrey, who’d played 81 minutes at that point. tracked her down and snuffed this opportunity. And, by-the-by, she won the goal kick. Another 30 seconds down the drain for Carolina’s last hopes.
One day Lia Godfrey is going to be playing for the National Women's team. But on this night, defending Sam Meza 1v1, she stuffed her. And she won the goal kick.#GoHoos #AllIn pic.twitter.com/f2tUEWlpAB— Jerzey Walker (@JerzeyWalker) September 18, 2022
Talia Staude pulled up late in the middle of the second half and left the game for eight minutes. Those were the first non-critical minutes that she has played in her four-year career at Charlottesville. She didn’t seem any worse for wear.
There’s something wrong with Samar Guidry. She’s lost her dribbling mojo and she was pressed mercilessly in the first half. I don’t know if she’s riding a knock, but her lack of offensive output is noticeable. She is slower on her turns and can’t accelerate away from pressure, even against lesser squads than Carolina’s.
Virginia (now 8 – 0 – 1) travels to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish, formerly the #6 team in the nation, this coming Thursday. The game is set for 7pm and will be carried by ACC Network Extra.