NCAA Tournament 2015: Virginia Through to Elite Eight

Hosting their bracket of the NCAA tournament, Virginia made it through to the Elite Eight with two 2-0 wins – over UNC-Wilmington and Southern Cal – that weren’t as close as the box score might indicate.

Southern Cal 3, Princeton 0

The Princeton Tigers came into this match riding a 13-game unbeaten streak, but 3 1st-half goals from the Trojans put paid to that.

USC star Morgan Andrews figured in all 3 goals. In the 12th minute, she sent a cross in from near the left end line. The initial resulting shot was blocked, but the ball wasn’t cleared, and Sydney Sladek put it in from point-blank range.

The 2nd goal 11 minutes later was pure individual brilliance from Andrews. She got the ball at the top of the box, then looped around to the right, turning the corner while getting around 5 Princeton defenders, and fired the ball into the lower left corner.

The 3rd goal 2 minutes before halftime was an indication it just wasn’t the Tigers’ day. Andrews snuck up behind a careless Princeton defender and took the ball away from her, then barely managed to keep it in bounds along the left end line before cutting back. She fired it toward goal. Goalkeeper Hannah Winner was in position to make the save, but the ball caromed off another defender like a shot in bumper pool and went just inside the left post.

The Tigers came out in the 2nd half much stronger, holding the Trojans to just 1 more shot on goal after 7 in the 1st half, but they were only able to get 1 more shot on target themselves.

Princeton defender Nat Larkin, who plays for the Braddock Road Stars Elite over the summers, was pleased with the team’s season. “We got off to a rocky start. We lost 3 straight at home. And then this is our 1st loss in two months. We pulled it together. We realized we had to turn it around, and we all came together as a team. It’s just been an amazing ride. We’re happy to have gotten this far. Obviously, we would have loved to win, but we’re just proud of each other.”

And it was certainly no shame losing to USC. “It’s an honor to play against teams like this. You don’t usually get to play teams from the other coast during the season. Obviously if we’d played the way we did the 2nd half, it could have been a different game, but I think we’re just proud of the 2nd half we put out there and that we can play with anyone in the country.”

She gives a lot of credit to the Braddock Road organization. “Everything about Braddock Road always pushes you to play at a higher level. I’m just happy to be here. [Head coach] Larry [Best] literally built me as a player. I owe everything to my roots. I’m happy to have gotten here.”

Virginia 2, UNC-Wilmington 0

In the nightcap, it was just a question of how long it would take the home team to score. The Wahoos utterly dominated possession and got the 1st shot on goal just 25 seconds in. However, they were repeatedly foiled when trying to get the ball in the net, no more so than in the 11th minute when 2 close-range shot attempts were blocked, and the 3rd went off the crossbar. That was the story of the 1st half: 11 shots, 5 on target, none in. Meanwhile, the Seahawks didn’t have a shot.

It took until 6 minutes into the 2nd half for the Cavaliers to get on the scoreboard, with Alexis Shaffer firing a shot in from the top of the box into the upper left corner, ironically one of the longest shots the team had taken until that point.

UNCW goalkeeper Carolyn Huddy would make 2 big saves in the next few minutes, one off corner kick action, and the other on a rocket of a shot from Brittany Ratcliffe about 16 out. Huddy would finish with 10 saves on the night.

The score was doubled in the 61st minute off a corner kick. Tina Iordanou’s initial header was blocked, but the rebound came right to Makenzy Doniak, who had an easy putaway from just 2 yards out.

The Seahawks finally took a shot in the final minutes – met with derisive cheers from the crowd – but even that wasn’t on target. The final boxscore would show 28 shots for the Cavaliers, 12 on target, versus the 1 for the visitors.

Virginia 2, Southern Cal 0

The Trojans put up more of a fight than the Seahawks, but again it seemed like a question of just how long it would take for the Wahoos to score. Virginia had much the better of possession in the midfield and repeatedly brought the ball into the box, but every time they were stymied at the last moment by USC’s swarming defense, which would get in the way and get the ball out of danger.

The opening goal came at a propitious time, just 2 minutes before halftime. Iordanou got the ball on the left side from Shaffer and lofted a cross into the box. It looked for a moment as if the defender marking Doniak would be able to head it out of danger, but her leap wasn’t enough to reach it. Doniak chested the ball down and sent it in. It was Virginia’s 1st clear shot of the match, and they made it count.

The visitors came out stronger in the 2nd half and actually outdid Virginia in terms of shots on goal, 5 to 2. But most of the attempts were hopeful shots from distance and easy pickings for goalkeeper Morgan Stearns. The only exception was in the 56th minute, when a ball over the top from defender Kayla Mills gave midfielder Reilly Parker (no relation) an open shot from the left side of the box. She fired it in, but Stearns, in good position, blocked the ball, bobbled it as she went to the ground, but then held on. Additionally, in the 73rd minute the Trojans had a free kick from about 30 yards out. After an initial dummy, Andrews fired it towards the lower right corner, but Stearns covered it easily. After a dominating performance 2 days earlier, that would be Andrews’ only shot on goal of the match.

By contrast, USC goalkeeper Sammy Jo Prudhomme had to make a point-blank save in the 65th minute off a shot from Doniak from about 6 yards out.

Most importantly, the Cavaliers got another goal in the 81st minute. Off a counterattack, forward Veronica Latsko brought the ball down the right side toward the end line, then kicked the ball out to Shaffer who in a rare lapse by the Trojans defense was left wide open at the top of the box. That proved to be fatal as she fired a rocket inside the right post to all but clinch the win for Virginia.

That seemed to be the attitude for the Wahoos as well, as they started taking the ball to the corner with over 5 minutes to go. USC looked to have a chance with a free kick in the 86th minute, but with the Trojans playing up to bolster the attack, it just resulted in Doniak leading a 3-player break the other way. Defender Dominique Randle was able to catch up to Doniak, who tried to pass the ball to 1 of the other players but was well off target.

The final whistle blew, but there was a surprising lack of celebration on the part of the victors. The tired but determined expressions on their faces seemed to say nothing more than “3 down, 3 to go”. This is a team that will be disappointed by anything less than an NCAA championship.

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