In the wake of the recent success enjoyed by the University of Virginia football team, not a lot of attention has been paid to the fact that the Cavaliers' women's soccer team has climbed to No. 1 in the national rankings, having won its first 14 games.

Usually cast in the shadow of the defending national co-champion men's soccer team, the women are making a name for themselves.

"I'm real pleased with where we are right now," Coach Lauren Gregg said. "But the counterpart is that I'm so excited about what we can get better at."

The Cavaliers have shut out seven of their last eight opponents. They have scored 43 goals this season while allowing six.

The key has been balanced scoring combined with a standout defensive group led by sweeper Traci Kennedy and goalie Andrea Rippe. Both are products of Lake Braddock High School.

That pair teamed up in 1987 to help bring a state championship to Lake Braddock, and they hope to lead the Cavaliers to the national college title.

"There's an overall real positive feeling on the team this year, and I know, being a senior, you don't want to be left with any regrets," Kennedy said.

"I know that we're not really satisfied yet, which gives us that little extra," midfielder Kim Conway said.

Conway helped keep the Cavaliers undefeated and untied with a game-winning goal against Cincinnati Sept. 16. The goal came with only two seconds remaining in regulation and helped create a feeling that many of the players hope will carry through the season.

"There's a sense that things are going our way," Gregg said. "There's a special feeling about this team. . . . that we can make it happen and, more than anything, it shows we can win when we don't play our best. That's the mark of a good team."

Although aspirations probably are higher this season than ever before, the Cavaliers face heavy pressure, having earned the stigma of never having won an NCAA tournament game.

"Last year's loss {1-0 to Massachusetts} really hurt," midfielder Amanda Cromwell (Annandale) said. "I know we have the talent to go to the final four, so I'd like to see our potential take us as far as we can go."

The biggest question mark at the beginning of the season was who would replace forward Gayle Smith (McLean), lost to graduation. Smith led the team in scoring last season with 28 points (11 goals, six assists).

"Gayle is an unbelievable player," Kennedy said. "But one of the things that has happened with Gayle's leaving is that some of the players have raised their level of play in order to fill her shoes."

One of those players has been sophomore forward Andrea Rubio. Rubio (12 goals, eight assists) has emerged as the Cavaliers' major scoring threat, having scored a goal or been credited with an assist in every game but one this year. She already has surpassed Smith's point total from last season.

Although the Cavaliers have collected wins over nationally ranked William and Mary, North Carolina State, George Mason, Cincinnati, Massachusetts and Duke, they face a major obstacle in their bid to win an ACC championship -- seemingly unbeatable North Carolina. The teams will meet Oct. 20 in Chapel Hill.

"This is my most experienced team ever," Gregg said. "On a given day we are competitive with UNC. We are on their tier and we have every right to be out there with them."