Back From The Gold Rush

Sept. 13, 2012

Steve Phillips, Associate Director of Communications for the Atlantic Coast Conference, takes you Beyond the ACCtion. Today's article looks at the ACC's ties to Team USA at the 2012 FIFA Under-20 Women's Wold Cup.

Virginia women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson will be on the sidelines for tonight’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener against visiting NC State.

The 7 p.m. nationally televised match (FOX Soccer Channel) will be Swanson’s first with the Cavaliers this season. The veteran coach returned Monday from a nearly month-long stay in Tokyo, where he guided the United States to the 2012 FIFA Under-20 Women’s World Cup gold medal.

Swanson returns to a Virginia team that has won seven straight matches and is ranked fifth nationally by Soccer America.

“I can’t wait to get back into it,” said Swanson, who credits assistant coaches Ron Rabb and Kerry Dziczkaniec for the smooth sailing in his absence. “You just need to be careful how you get back into it. You certainly don’t want to disrupt anything that has been successful. But for me, personally, I’ve missed our players. I’ve been anxious to get back with them and to see them again and to help them in any way that I can.”

Swanson returns after coaching the U.S. U-20 team to its first World Cup gold medal since 2008. The United States team included eight student-athletes from ACC teams. Duke’s Molly Pathman and Kelly Cobb, Florida State’s Kassey Kallman, Virginia’s Morgan Brian, Wake Forest’s Katie Stengel and Crystal Dunn, Bryane Heaberlin and Kealia Ohai of North Carolina each played an integral role in helping the USA to its third World Cup crown in this tournament's history

Ohai delivered the lone goal in last Saturday night’s 1-0 gold medal-clinching victory over Germany, taking a pass from Dunn and lofting a shot over goalkeeper Lara Benkarth in the 44th minute. In a 2-0 win over Nigeria in the semifinals on Sept. 4, UVa.’s Brian scored the first goal for the U.S. on a cross from Pathman in the 22nd minute, and Ohai added the other score at the 70-minute mark.

"Mollie and I have this thing were we connect," Brian told VirginiaSports.com. "I know when she has time and gets the space that she's going to find me on the back post. She played it and I was there.”

According to Swanson, the close relationship between ACC players was evident on and off the field.

“I think everyone in our conference feels strongly about the ACC and what it means,” Swanson said. “Everybody has made such an investment in the league and takes great pride in the fact it’s the top conference in the country, top to bottom, for women’s soccer. If you put the players from the ACC that played on the national team in a room together, even though they didn’t play on the same college teams, you’d think they were buddies for life.

“There was an amazing camaraderie, and I think that’s one of the great things about sport. You meet people who share the same values and the same love, and they can become your lifelong friends.”

Those feelings extend to coaches. Swanson will face six of his U.S. team players in the weeks ahead, beginning with Sunday’s home match against North Carolina.

“I can tell you that every one of those players is just an outstanding human being,” Swanson said. “Whether they are an opponent of ours or if they’re playing somebody else, there’s a bond there. We want them to do well. We want them to continue to develop as soccer players. I’ll be following them. Obviously we share a little more now having gone through that experience of the World Cup.”

As conference play gets into full swing and November’s postseason draws closer, college soccer will again consume all of Swanson’s time and efforts. But he will always look back at what transpired in Tokyo as something exceedingly special.

“It’s hard to express how really difficult it is to win it,” Swanson said “At the U-20 level, you are talking about 110, 120 teams that are competing throughout the world now. We were fortunate enough to make the Top 16 that go to the World Cup. That in of itself is hard, but then when you look at the tournament, definitely we were in the toughest group for group play. We were in with the defending world champion Germany, we were in with Ghana, who tied our U-20s two years, and we were in with China as well.”

The U.S. squad posted a 1-1-1 record in group play, including a 3-0 loss to Germany, but a mark good enough to advance. From there, Swanson’s team successfully ran what amounted to a gauntlet.

“We had to beat three group winners to win the World Championship; North Korea, Nigeria and then Germany,” Swanson said. “Not an easy run at all, but I think it shows what a great group we had. It is cliché to say, ‘It was a team effort,’ but we don’t win that tournament without the players we had and the fact they really bought into what we talked about.”

Swanson said he will most remember the U.S. team for the manner in which it overcame adversity and the team members’ willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve their ultimate goal.

“Those kinds of things will stand out for me – that, and seeing the sheer joy on our players’ faces after the final,” Swanson said. “It’s why we do what we do.”