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Virginia women’s soccer team embraces underdog role in NCAA Tournament

Virginia women’s soccer team embraces underdog role in NCAA Tournament


Virginia’s Taryn Torres dribbles the ball against West Virginia at Klöckner Stadium.

The Virginia women’s soccer team rarely feels overlooked.

The program has made the NCAA Tournament 27 consecutive times and played in 14 of the past 15 Sweet 16s. The Cavaliers have reached the College Cup twice in the past 10 years, falling in the national title match in 2014.

This postseason, however, the unseeded Cavaliers feel like a team outside the national spotlight.

“I think that we kind of are the underdogs now moving forward, and we don’t have anything to lose,” junior forward Alexa Spaanstra said.

UVa opened the NCAA Tournament with a 3-1 win over Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Wednesday. The Cavaliers fell behind 1-0 in the first 15 minutes before scoring three goals in the final 50 minutes of the match. Two came from Spaanstra.

The win means the Cavaliers (11-4-2, 5-2-1 ACC) will likely be considered underdogs for the remainder of the event. They face No. 12 BYU (11-3-1, 7-1-1 WCC) on Saturday at 3 p.m. A win would set up a potential third meeting this spring with No. 5 West Virginia.

While upsets could lead to UVa facing non-seeded teams in subsequent matches, there’s a chance the Cavaliers face teams the NCAA selection committee viewed as superior for the rest of the tournament. That starts Saturday against an explosive BYU team, which enjoyed a first-round bye. The Cougars are one of just four teams nationally to average more than three goals per game, scoring 3.13 per contest.

“They’re very athletic, very direct and got obviously some capable players that can score goals,” Virginia head coach Steve Swanson said.

Four BYU players have scored eight goals or more this season, with senior midfielder Mikayla Colohan leading the way. She’s found the back of the net 11 times this spring. Senior forward Cameron Tucker is another matchup concern. She leads the Cougars with eight assists, and she’s also added eight goals.

BYU is unbeaten in its past eight matches, and the team’s three losses all came by just one goal. Two of the Cougars’ losses came to UCLA and Santa Clara, who both earned national seeds for this year’s tournament.

“I think one of the things that hopefully will help us will be the two games we played against West Virginia to end our spring, especially given that they’re similar,” Swanson said. “They have some similar tendencies, so hopefully that’ll help us.”

UVa fell to West Virginia 1-0 on April 3, but played a better game on April 10, tying the Mountaineers 1-1.

The Cavaliers also hope playing Wednesday can be an unexpected benefit. Virginia wanted a national seed, but was able to pick up a first-round win, scoring three times in the process. After two and a half weeks away from game action, the Cavaliers feel like the win may help develop some rhythm and momentum moving into Saturday’s match.

BYU, on the other hand, hasn’t played a match in two weeks.

“Obviously we didn’t get the first-round bye we were kind of looking for,” Spaanstra said, “but I think it was almost like a blessing in disguise playing SIUE and just helping us get our foot forward in the tournament.”

Every match the rest of the way will test UVa, but the Cavaliers feel confident in their ability. They earned a first-round win earlier in the week, and they’re ready to embrace the unfamiliar role of being an underdog in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“I think we have a lot to prove,” Spaanstra said.

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