Sophomore defender Zach Carroll isn't shy when asked about what the Virginia men's soccer team could be capable of this season.
"I think we can go all the way," Carroll said Tuesday morning following the Cavaliers' practice, as they prepare for Friday's season opener at Klöckner Stadium against Louisville.
UVa returns 10 starters from last year's team that finished last season 10-7-4 following a loss to New Mexico in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers have also added one of the top-ranked recruiting classes in the country, highlighted by forward Nicko Corriveau and midfielder Jordan Allen -- both ranked among the top five recruits in the country.
"The guys coming in, and then adding that experience," Carroll said. "Now we know what we have to do. Last year was kind of like a trial run for us."
Coach George Gelnovatch agrees with Carroll's take on the Cavaliers' talent level. But he thinks the sophomore's prediction may be a year or two ahead of schedule.
"If you're just asking me from like a talent standpoint, this is among one of the most talented teams I've coached," said Gelnovatch, who is entering his 18th season as head coach at his alma mater. Each of those previous 17 teams have reached the NCAA Tournament, including the 2009 national championship team.
"If you're talking to me about 2014, 2015? I could easily just look you in the eye and tell you "national championship caliber team." Is it this year? Maybe," he said. "I think we've just got to see, from an experience standpoint, how much we gained from last year."
Seven of those 10 returning starters from last season, including Carroll, are now entering their second seasons with the Cavaliers. Carroll started 16 games at center back in 2012, and finished his freshman year second on the team with four goals and 10 points.
"It's just a lot of experience," Carroll said of his first year. "I know I had a lot of "oops's" as a freshman. So getting those out of my system. And this year, knowing what I have to do right off the get-go."
"We all had a lot of egos coming in. We all were the stars of our club teams coming in," said sophomore midfielder Brian James, who started 14 games a year ago. "But as the year progressed, we all learned to mesh together. And that's going to help us a lot this year."
Louisville has reached the NCAA quarterfinals in each of the past three seasons. And Gelnovatch says Friday's opener will be just the first of several tests for his team again this fall.
"Last year's schedule, I think I made the comment was one of the toughest, if not the toughest. I think this year's is tougher," he said.
"Having said that, we have a group of guys that have been through it, a real tough schedule. A little bit more experienced," Gelnovatch added. "So again, it comes back to this thing with how much gain did those first-years from last year, how much did they benefit from all of that."