Jeff Causey can't remember in what game it occurred. The opponent was either North Carolina State or Richmond. Whatever, it bothered him.

The shout came from the grandstands at Virginia's Scott Stadium earlier this month. Between yelling instructions to teammates and concentrating on the opponent's attack, Causey, the Virginia soccer team's freshman goalkeeper, heard the cry loud and clear.

"Where's Meola?" a spectator bellowed.

It was inevitable. Causey knew it. Cavaliers Coach Bruce Arena knew it. Just donning a goalie's sweater in Charlottesville can evoke memories of Tony Meola, the former Virginia star who was the starting keeper for the U.S. national team in last summer's World Cup in Italy.

"It bothers me a little, but I try not to think about it," Causey said. "I've gotten used to it. Everyone remembers Tony."

It was only a year ago that Meola, between World Cup qualifying games, helped the Cavaliers win a share of the national championship. He played only 16 games last season, including the 1-1 tie against Santa Clara in the title match, but, at 21, he has been called by more than one impressed observer the best goalie the United States has ever produced.

There was never any doubt that whomever protected the Virginia nets in the first year A.M. (After Meola) would be unfairly compared to Meola, who now is playing for last-place Watford in the English Second Division.

But in a state that once produced presidents, the state school in the last decade has produced one superb goalie after another. Causey, an All-Met selection last spring at Stonewall Jackson High School in Prince William County, seems to be no exception.

Since claiming the starting spot in the second week of the season, Causey has emerged among the national leaders in goals-against average (0.62).

The fifth-ranked Cavaliers (8-3-3) will play No. 14 George Mason (9-3-3) Wednesday at 3 p.m. in Fairfax.

Meola played two seasons, recorded 11 shutouts and a 0.338 goals-against average, third best in NCAA history. He was a redshirt in 1987 because Bob Willen, who had a 0.339 GAA, was in the process of being named goalkeeper of the year. Willen was the backup before he became the starter in 1986 after Keith Lenert helped Virginia win 34 games in 1984-85.

But unlike his predecessors, Causey was thrust into the spotlight in his first season. No one to observe. No one to develop under. No one to emulate. At the school that had a 157-37-16 record in the '80s, expectations always are high.

The battle for the starting spot was between Causey and freshman Tom Henske, a high school all-American from East Northport, N.Y.

"Nothing was ever determined about who was the starting keeper before the season, although Henske had a bit of an edge," Arena said.

Henske started the season-opener against Radford, but suffered a concussion and had to be helped off the field after a nasty collision in the goal mouth. Causey finished the 3-1 victory and also started against Army three days later. Henske then reinjured a shoulder that had been separated in the summer and was lost for the season.

Causey proved himself both in high school and at the club level. At the latter, he was a member of the Prince William Spartans, who last summer won the under-19 state championship. His teammates included Brian Bates and Shawn Bearden, who also play at Virginia, and American University freshmen Jesse Skipwith and Aaron Tingle.

Virginia sophomores Erik Imler, Tim Kunihiro and Craig Brannan played for the Bethesda Alliance, which defeated the Spartans in the east regional final of the national tournament.

Everything has gone well this fall for Causey, who lives in Catharpin, Va., a town just north of Manassas near the point where Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties meet.

"The last couple games I've had to make a lot of key saves that could've been sure goals," Causey said. "The defense {anchored by all-American candidates Jeff Agoos and Curt Onalfo} has done a great job keeping the number of shots down. But if they do get through, I've been there to make the play."