The last time Loyola and Virginia met in soccer, the Cavaliers were all about potential, not accomplishment. The Greyhounds took great glee when they knocked off the Cavaliers in the 1986 and '87 NCAA tournaments, but those upsets were several years and three Virginia titles ago.
The juggernaut that Bruce Arena began compiling in Charlottesville in 1978 has long since come to fruition, and it's on the verge of unprecedented greatness. Virginia (18-3) is seeking to become the first school in tournament history to win three straight NCAA titles, and the immediate roadblock is Loyola (19-2-1), today's second-round opponent at Klockner Stadium.
Arena, who in 16 seasons has a 248-54-29 record, attracted the nation's best talent from the beginning, but after reaching the semifinals in 1983, Virginia became notorious for its inability to survive early NCAA tournament games. Loyola bounced the Cavaliers in the first round in 1986 and in the second a year later, but as Arena said, "We've won a lot of games since then."
Virginia finally reached the NCAA final in 1989, when it shared the title with Santa Clara. It lost to North Carolina State in the quarterfinals in 1990, but bested Santa Clara in a penalty-kick shootout to take its first outright championship in 1991. Last year, the Cavaliers ran past San Diego, 2-0, to become the seventh two-time Division I champion.
"If there's a soccer program in this country to emulate, it's Virginia," Loyola coach Bill Sento said. "That program is the pinnacle of success in college soccer. They recruit great players, train them well, and play an attractive brand of soccer."
Whereas Virginia used to be known for its early exits, now it's known for stepping forward in November. Among the top four teams in the final coaches' poll, only the third-ranked Cavaliers .. survived the first round of the 32-team tournament, as No. 1 Creighton, No. 2 UCLA and No. 4 St. John's all bid adieu last weekend.
The Cavaliers have been injury-riddled all season, and they're still without All-America defender Clint Peay, an Oakland Mills product who formerly was captain of the Under-20 National team. They lost three times in a 15-day span in October, but avenged two of them in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, stopping Duke in the semifinals and Clemson in the final.
The Cavaliers, who held off William & Mary in last weekend's first round, usually finish atop the ACC, the nation's premier conference.
The Greyhounds have the best record among the remaining 16 teams and are 44-1 in five seasons in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but of the nation's 21 leagues that sponsor soccer, it's one of the five that don't have an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Dean Smith is the only coach with more Parade All-Americans than Arena. The brightest star is Claudio Reyna, a junior midfielder from Springfield, N.J., who's considered the best field player in the history of American college soccer. He's willing to wait until 1998 for his World Cup turn.
Loyola, No. 18 in the final coaches' poll, will counter Virginia's flair and attacking style with the stingiest defense in school history, a typical stance under Sento, whose 14-year record is 186-67-30. Zach Thornton, a junior goalie out of John Carroll High and Essex Community College, has the best goals-against average in the nation, and the philosophy extends to sophomore midfielder Bill Heiser, whom Sento thinks is the best marking back in the country.
"It's a little bit intimidating thinking about all of Virginia's talent," said stopper back Billy Harte, a four-year starter. "On paper, they have the best players in the country, but it's a matter of who wants it more."
When it beat James Madison, 1-0, last week, it was Loyola's first NCAA victory since it topped Virginia in 1987, and the current Greyhounds tired of hearing about the five-year absence from the tournament. The lone goal in that 1987 victory was scored by Joe Barger on an assist from Stan Koziol. Mike Barger, a sophomore defender, barely recalls the monumental goal scored his brother. Joe Koziol, Stan's brother and then Loyola's leading scorer but now an assistant coach, said, "That's ancient history to these guys. They want to leave their own legacy."
The opportunity is available today.
NOTES: The winner advances to next weekend's quarterfinals, against the Indiana-Wisconsin winner. . . . Indiana was the last team to get repeat titles (1982 and 1983). . . . There was no advance ticket sale in Baltimore, and the price is $6 for adults and $4 for students at Klockner Stadium. . . . Peay, who underwent knee surgery in the off-season, has played in 10 of the Cavaliers' 21 games, but could return if they make the Final Four at Davidson on Dec. 3 and Dec. 5. . . . Since losing 2-1 at George Mason on Sept. 30, the only blemish on the Greyhounds' record has been a 0-0 tie with Maryland on Nov. 1.
NCAA TOURNAMENT SECOND ROUND
LOYOLA (19-2-1) at VIRGINIA (18-3)
Site: Klockner Stadium, Charlottesville, Va., 1 p.m.
Outlook: The winner advances to next weekend's quarterfinals. Virginia lost three times in a five-game span in mid-October, but the Cavaliers have reeled off five straight wins and are favored to take their third straight NCAA title, something that has never been accomplished in the 34-year history of the tournament. The Cavaliers, who finished third in the final coaches' poll, have a star-studded lineup that revolves around junior MF Claudio Reyna, maybe the most creative player to come out of an American high school. He has nine goals and is second on the team in points behind Mike Slivinski, who doesn't start up front now that A. J. Wood and Nate Friends are healthy. Loyola, which beat Virginia in the 1986 and 1987 tournaments, is back in the field after a five-year absence. Junior G Zach Thornton, the nation's leader in goals-against average (0.34) has a school-record 17 shutouts. Sophomore MF Marc Harrison has 12 goals and five assists.