CARY, N.C. – When asked after Friday’s semi-final what concerned him most about facing the Virginia Cavaliers in Sunday’s championship game, Maryland head coach Jonathan Morgan half-jokingly replied, “Everything.”
Turns out he probably wasn’t joking at all: The UVA team put in one of the most complete team performances of the season on Sunday, winning the ACC Tournament Championship 4-0 over a formidable Terrapins side by the largest margin of victory in the final for a decade.
From offense to defense, starter to sub, freshman to senior, Virginia simply competed at a higher level than Maryland could handle. As the whistle blew to start the game, it was readily apparent, with the Terrapin side almost instantly on their back heels, absorbing pressure.
Within the first five minutes, the swashbuckling Cavaliers had already declared their intentions. The big M&M, Morgan Brian and Caroline Miller, each had two shots apiece on the Terp goal as Maryland struggled just to get the ball out of their defensive half.
With dark blue jerseys buzzing all around them like a swarm of bees, it was only a matter of time before the Terrapins got stung and in the 21st minute, when Virginia winger Gloria Douglas finally inflicted some pain.
A Virginia takeaway fell to Brian in the defensive half of the center circle. Brian quickly shuffled the ball to Miller, who sprinted through the middle of the park as Terps defenders scrambled to close her down. With three defenders all focused on Miller, Douglas split wide left of the play and took the diagonal feed from Miller. As right back Domenica Hodak broke off to cover Douglas, the Virginia forward took a touch further to the left, creating enough space to rip a fierce shot to the far post, past a fully-stretched Rachelle Beanlands for the first goal of the afternoon.
Douglas had an impressive performance starting in place of freshman Makenzy Doniak in the semifinal and Virginia coach Steve Swanson elected to start her in the final as well. Despite only starting six games, the North Carolina native has appeared in all 20 games for UVA this season and her aggressive attacking play throughout the weekend earned her a spot on the ACC All-Tournament Team.
Miller had another opportunity in the 25th minute, again receiving the ball at the top of the 18 where she quickly broke free of her marker and unleashed a shot which clanged off the crossbar. It was her third shot which only missed the mark by inches.
Throughout the half, the Cavaliers’ intensity was palpable: Virginia players harassed and contested virtually every touch Maryland had on the ball, giving the Terps almost no room to breathe or organize their offense. The entire field seemed tilted toward Charlottesville with the team as a whole instantly shifting into overdrive upon gaining possession.
Particularly impressive were outside backs Molly Menchel and Morgan Stith who ruthlessly constricted Maryland’s flank play, closing off any wide avenue of attack. Higher up the pitch, Erica Hollenberg, another All-Tournament Team selection, Danielle Colaprico and Kate Norbo all turned in gritty, tenacious performances in the midfield, stymying their Maryland counterparts before they could find the forward duo of Brock and Kaplan. With service from the midfield sparse, the frontline starved, managing only four shots combined the entire match.
As the half closed, Virginia’s offense had amassed ten shots to Maryland’s three, yet had only the lone goal to show for it. It was an all-too-familiar situation for Swanson.
“I was a little nervous when we didn’t convert on a couple of chances that we had in the first half,” Swanson said, the memory of a second-half collapse in Maryland in September following a similar 1-0 halftime lead still fresh in the coach’s mind.
Miller echoed the concern, saying the September result definitely influenced the halftime talk:
“We just said ‘This is the same situation we were in at College Park. We gotta bring it this half, we can’t back off at all.’”
Each came out with a renewed energy in the second half. The ‘feeling out’ process was over; this half began like two heavyweights going toe-to-toe, landing punch after punch until one would eventually fall.
Early in the second half, Maryland matched Virginia’s intensity from the first. The two teams bypassed the midfield, breaking into a direct, end-to-end battle with both getting several dangerous looks on goal in the first five minutes.
The best chance came four minutes in off a breakaway for Maryland. Domenica Hodak served a deep ball through the center of the park, putting Brock in on goal as Cavalier ‘keeper Danielle DeLisle came out to meet the onrushing forward. Brock struck a half-volley off a high bouncing ball which DeLisle managed to swat down near the top of the 18. Brock pounced on the rebound, taking another shot which DeLisle again got a paw on, taking enough steam out of the shot to allow Emily Sonnett, back protecting the open goal mouth, to clear out of danger.
Two minutes gone and Brock was in once more, barging her way into the 18-yard box again off another over-the-top ball. It took a supreme effort from the Cavalier center back tandem of Emily Sonnett and Shasta Fisher to stifle the Terp forward as she tried several times to fire off a shot before Molly Menchel eventually came in to hoof the ball out-of-bounds.
It would be Virginia, though, that would land another critical blow less than two minutes later. Morgan and Miller, working the ball around the perimeter of the 18-yard box, found Danielle Colaprico who barreled her way into the box from the left side. As the Maryland defense gravitated toward the left, Brian pulled back, unmarked and waiting in the center for the feed from Colaprico. With ‘keeper Beanlands out of goal covering the left, Brian received the ball and took her shot in stride. Although initially deflected off the line by centerback Erika Nelson, the rebound again fell to Brian, who reloaded and fired straight past the defender for the second goal.
The sophomore’s imperious weekend in Cary likely elevated her from the MAC Hermann Watch List, to the “Ooh, Ooh, Pick Me! Pick Me!” List. With a goal and an assist in the final to go with her two-goal, one-assist performance from the semifinal, Brian lugged even more shiny objects home for the trophy room after the match, earning both a spot on the All-Tournament Team and the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award.
“If she’s not the best player in the country, I really want to see who is,” Maryland coach Morgan said of Brian after the game.
With Brian’s goal in the books, it was time for the ACC Offensive Player of the Year to carve her initials in the scoresheet.
In the 65th minute, the Cavaliers’ Colaprico had another key play, winning the ball in Maryland’s defensive third off a throw-in that had the midfielder driving into the box before dishing off to Miller in the center. Having found nothing but woodwork all day, Miller left nothing to chance on this opportunity, hammering a left-footed missile past the helpless Beanlands. Miller threw her arms out wide and, with a beaming smile, soaked up the moment before being mobbed by her teammates.
“It’s like all of your kid dreams coming true,” the senior forward said of the day. “Literally this morning that’s all I thought. I was thinking, ‘Every kid dreams of this moment when they’re eight years old’ and it came true today.”
As time ebbed away, Swanson began subbing more freely, allowing all his players a chance to be on the field for the championship and further emphasizing the total team effort.
“Every one of our players has contributed to our team this season,” said Swanson of his bench players. “To get them time, to get them this experience, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Nobody knows more than us how hard these guys work at practice every day and how much they contribute to the team and I think out of sheer respect you try to get everybody in.”
Coming on as a sub in the 76th minute, freshman sensation Doniak had already taken three shots, looking to get her name in the scoring hat. With four-and-a-half minutes left on the clock, a deep, diagonal cross from Kaili Torres over the top of the defense put Doniak one-on-one with Beanlands as she charged into the box. Doniak slotted her shot past the ‘keeper into the opposite corner, collecting her ninth goal of the year and icing the game away at 4-0.
Minutes later, the Virginia Cavaliers had their hands on the coveted trophy, wrapping up an impressive late-season run which earned them a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Since a loss to Florida State in mid-October, Miller and Brian have gone on a Hulk-like rampage, with Miller carrying a streak of five consecutive games with a goal while Brian has an assist in consecutive games over the same span. The team seems now to be in peak form heading into the NCAA’s.
For first-year head coach Jonathan Morgan and his young Terrapin side, the ACC Tournament provided a great deal of upside heading into the second stage of the post-season in spite of the loss in the final.
“I think today is going to be really awesome for our group,” he said. “I think this environment today, playing for something that is on the line, is going to be awesome for us. I think we’ll understand the importance of bringing it from the start, being disciplined, paying attention to details. I don’t really want to change anything about our style of play or how we play. You can only get experience through having opportunity… today we had our opportunity and I think it will prepare us for next week.”
Coach Swanson reveled in the moment of being able to step back and watch his team celebrate their championship victory.
“It makes it all worthwhile,” Swanson said. “It’s a lot of time; it’s a lot of effort, a lot of commitment. Maybe you question whether it’s worth it or not, (but) to gain an experience like this, to have the players get some success, to get a reward for all the work they’ve done, there’s nothing better than that.”
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