The ACC has the nation's best soccer

Staff writerDecember 13, 2009 

Mens College Cup Soccer

Virginia celebrates their victory over Akron in the NCAA men's College Cup championship soccer game in Cary, N.C. on Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009.

GERRY BROOME — Gerry Broome - AP

It had been 15 years since Virginia won an NCAA title in soccer, a significant decline for what had once been one of the real powers of the sport. To their credit, the Virginia players embraced that history instead of letting it suffocate them, making “15 Years” their slogan for the season.

It’s down to zero years. The Cavaliers secured their sixth national title with a penalty-kick win over Akron after the two teams failed to produce a goal in 110 minutes Sunday. It was also the ACC’s 15th national title in men’s soccer, another chapter in the conference’s dominance of the sport.

In an era when the ACC’s fall season is dampened by the conference’s increasingly annual failure to produce a national-title contender in football, and no ACC volleyball team has ever made that sport’s final four, ACC soccer has produced title contenders and trophies with startling regularity.

North Carolina’s women captured their 20th NCAA title a week ago, successfully prolonging that dynasty, and the men of the conference, collectively, aren’t far behind.

The ACC sent three teams to this College Cup for the second straight year, both NCAA firsts, had at least one team in the semifinals for the ninth straight year and has claimed 13 of the past 26 titles.

Virginia previously accounted for five of those, but none since 1994, so the ACC’s hold on the game was maintained largely without Virginia’s help in recent years. Sunday was the Cavaliers’ first visit to the title game in a decade.

“I knew it would come,” Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said. “I told my (athletics director) that. I told my associate AD that. It was not a matter of ‘if.’ It’s going to be ‘when.’ And I was hell-bent on making sure of that. The past couple years I’ve been saying it, and here we are.”

Given the full house Sunday, despite the dreary weather and absence of local semifinal losers North Carolina and Wake Forest, the NCAA has wisely made Cary its soccer headquarters, bringing either the men’s or women’s finals to WakeMed Soccer Park annually. Of course, the ACC’s collective success, all but guaranteeing a team within a short drive, doesn’t hurt either.

The conference delivered three of them this weekend, with Akron trying to play the spoiler. Seeking their first NCAA title in any team sport, the Zips denied North Carolina the opportunity to pull off a men’s and women’s double by defeating the Tar Heels in the semifinals before the Cavaliers struck a blow for the ACC in the shootout Sunday.

These are lean times at Virginia, with the football and basketball teams both playing poorly enough to get their coaches fired. Even the soccer team has failed to live up to its own lofty standards lately. The Virginia players took it upon themselves to restore what they saw as their rightful position atop the game.

“We have pictures of all the teams that have won national championships in our locker room,” Virginia defender Mike Volk said. “Walking by, every day, seeing those guys and how happy they were, we told ourselves as a team we wanted to be there one day and finally it came.”

For the Cavaliers, Sunday’s championship was a return to the top. For the ACC, it is yet another stamp of the conference’s authority in soccer, and the conference’s second NCAA title in as many Sundays in the sport.

The ACC may not have had much national success lately in football, but when it comes to futbol, the conference can’t be beat.

luke.decock@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-8947

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