After helping his DeMatha team win the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference soccer championship as a senior and earning 2000 All-Met honors for his play at sweeper, Waldorf's Matt Oliver set off for Charlottesville with a soccer scholarship to the University of Virginia.
Seven minutes into his first game that fall, however, Oliver was carried off the field after he slid into an opponent going for the ball and tore the meniscus cartilage in his left knee.
"My leg locked, and I couldn't straighten it," he said. "I got up and my leg was all twisted."
The injury forced Oliver to redshirt his freshman year, and he headed to spring practice in early 2001 with high hopes that the injured knee was healthy again. But the leg locked up during a drill, tearing the cartilage again. He had immediate surgery.
"It was the same pain," he said. "It was just like, 'Oh, man, not again.' "
The doctor this time completely removed the meniscus cartilage. Oliver was strongly encouraged to wear a knee brace, but he said he ditched it after a week and a half because it was uncomfortable and at times more painful than not wearing it.
That fall, with his knee rehabilitated through weight training, Oliver started 19 games and was named to Soccer America's All-Freshman team, one of only three Cavaliers ever to earn the honor. (Current U.S. National team member Claudio Reyna was another.) He also made second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference. Last season Oliver helped the Cavs into the second round of the NCAA Tournament and was again named second-team All-ACC.
Oliver is majoring in elementary education, and after graduation in 2005 (he has two years of eligibility remaining and plans to play both seasons) he plans to enter the Major League Soccer draft.
Meanwhile, he is in the pool for the Under-23 Men's U.S. National team, which will be chosen this fall. Oliver attended one tryout camp in Miami over winter break, but missed another session in Portugal last month because it conflicted with the start of classes.
Oliver said most of the other members of the Under-23 team are playing in the MLS, and that it will take "a lot of commitment" to earn a spot on such an elite team.
"It's something you've got to want and can't play halfway. There are people out there that want it just as bad as you do or more."
-- Dave Yanovitz