As one of the top programs in all of NCAA women’s soccer, Virginia was long overdue to win its first national championship. In so many seasons, the Cavaliers have ranked among the best teams in the nation only to see their postseason run lag behind the College Cup. This time, it was UCLA, the nation’s No. 1-seeded and overall-ranked team, that denied the Hoos a chance to reach the College Cup and have a chance to take home their first national title.
For the second game in a row, the Cavaliers showed remarkable resilience to close a second-half deficit and send the game into overtime. But this time around, Virginia couldn’t quite stage the comeback as UCLA scored in overtime Saturday night in Los Angeles in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Women’s Soccer Championship to beat the Cavaliers 2-1.
The Cavaliers have shown all season that they play their best football with their backs to the wall. They showed it when they scored three goals in the second half to level a 2-0 deficit at North Carolina and they showed it again last week when they went 0-1 in the second half at Penn State – and came back 1-2 down. The Hoos had to do it again as they spent the middle 60 minutes of that quarterfinal game losing the Bruins 1-0 after scoring an early goal.
UCLA batted first in the 15th minute after a brilliant give-and-go game between Sunshine Fontes and Lexi Wright. Fontes ran from the left wing to the box and dropped the pass to Wright, who immediately sent a pass back to Fontes as she charged towards goal. Fontes fired her shot just yards from the left post. UVA goaltender Cayla White was in good position and had the shot in hand, but it wasn’t enough to keep the ball’s momentum from carrying it in goal to give the Bruins an early lead.
UCLA nearly doubled their lead in the 24th minute when Lexi Wright slipped into a cross and chested the ball into the back net, but the goal was disallowed as Wright was flagged for offside.
Although the Bruins had the more dangerous scoring chances, the Cavaliers largely won the battle for possession in midfield, allowing the Bruins to spend significant time in their defensive zone throughout the game. UVA had two shots on target in the first half, including one from Lia Godfrey from the edge of the box, but UCLA’s Lauren Brzykcy saved each shot with relative ease to maintain the Bruins’ 1-0 lead at halftime.
The shots were tied 4-4 in the first half, but in the second half the Cavaliers became more aggressive in converting their possession advantage into scoring chances. Virginia passed UCLA 7-3 in the second half and four of those shots went on the picture.
For a while even those precise shots weren’t enough to beat Brzykcy, who was stable between the posts with five saves in the game. Brzykcy saved a well-placed shot from Alexa Spaanstra on the left wing in the 66th minute. That was just the beginning of a flurry of UVA scoring chances that eventually led to the equaliser.
Virginia earned six corner kick chances in the second half and held an 8-1 lead in that category for the game. Finally, the Cavaliers capitalized on one of those chances in the 75th minute when Lia Godfrey served a corner kick and Haley Hopkins headed the ball into the back left corner of the net to level the Cavaliers with the Bruns at 1-1.
Of course, UCLA then began attacking the UVA defense with renewed aggression, producing two dangerous scoring chances. In the 81st minute, a UCLA cross landed just yards from the cage, but Alexis Theoret managed to clear it away before UCLA could get a foot on the ball. A minute later another cross landed on the doorstep but Cayla White made a bouncing attempt to cover the ball.
The Godfrey-Hopkins connection almost struck again in the 84th minute from a UVA corner kick, but Brzykcy made a diving save to prevent Virginia from taking the lead.
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Time was running out, sending Virginia into overtime for the second game in a row. UVA continued to largely outplay UCLA in midfield and gained a significant advantage in possession time. But in football you only need one move. In the 98th minute, UCLA sent a cross from the left wing into the box and she was headed by UVA’s Lacey McCormack, but the ball landed right at the foot of Sophia Cook, who fired a shot with the outside of her right foot at the herself wrapped around the diving Cayla White and found his way into the left post to put the Bruins back in front. It was a perfectly placed shot and one that’s certainly worthy of winning a game in an NCAA quarterfinal game.
Virginia had a few chances in the second overtime but the Cavaliers couldn’t get any of their shots in the frame. In the 107th minute, Talia Staude sent a long cross into the box and Hopkins lobbed and headed her, but her shot went just over the bar. In the 109th, Alexa Spaanstra played her magic on the left wing before sending a cross in front of the door, but Maya Carter was able to make it just in time. In the dwindling seconds of the second overtime, Brzykcy collected a final desperation cross from Virginia to seal UCLA’s victory.
The Bruins certainly earned the win and their place as one of the four teams going to the College Cup in Cary next week, but the Cavaliers will no doubt be frustrated by the missed opportunities that could have drastically changed the outcome of that game. Virginia overtook UCLA 15-9, including a 6-4 edge on shots on goal. That’s been a problematic trend for the Cavaliers all season. In UVA’s four losses that year, the Hoos overtook their opponents in three of those games and held a combined 55-36 shot advantage in those four losses.
“It was obviously tough to lose,” said UVA head coach Steve Swanson. “We’re really proud of the team, the dedication and the tremendous resilience they’ve shown throughout the season. It was tough being down at half-time but we got ourselves back into the game. We put ourselves in a good position to win, we just didn’t make the plays on the track. We could have easily come out of here with a win and that’s one of the reasons it hurts so much.”
Virginia closes out the 2022 season with a 16-4-3 record after reaching the NCAA Quarterfinals for the 9th time in program history but is close to promotion to UVA’s 5th College Cup appearance.
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