The Bruised attaché case the Virginia Cavaliers lugged to last weekend's NCAA men's soccer championships in Richmond was stuffed with enough totems and talismans to make even Claude Lévi-Strauss envious. Amid the assorted room keys, press credentials and origami charms was a fan letter from 1989, the year the Cavaliers won their first national title, and the wrist cast worn by forward Nate Friends when he scored all five of his team's Final Four goals en route to another title in '93. But the treasure most prized by the defending national champs was a gold-painted jockstrap festooned with mug shots of players, and, in the crotch, a strategically stapled ace of hearts.
"The Golden Jockstrap is what we're about," said coach Bruce Arena, who ends every practice during the postseason by hanging it in the locker of the day's hardest-working Cavalier. "It's a reminder of what we need to do to be successful." Who could argue? Since the jock was fetishized six years ago, Virginia soccer jocks had won five national titles, the last four in a row.
Alas, the spell of the gilded garment was broken in last Friday's semifinals when unbeaten Virginia was upended by 11th-ranked Duke, which in turn was upended by seventh-ranked Wisconsin in Sunday's finale. So momentous was the collapse of the Cavs' jockocracy that it overshadowed the remarkable title run of the Badgers, who surrendered their last goal eight games ago, on Oct. 29.
For what seems like forever, Arena futball has dominated the college game. Full of changes of pace and lively movement, the Cavalier approach stresses ball handling and slashing attacks by all players, defenders included. The Blue Devils subverted it by putting balls in the Cavaliers' 18-yard penalty box and creating havoc. At the half they led 2-0. The Cavaliers didn't get on the board until nine minutes into the second half. Sixteen minutes later Duke freshman midfielder Jay Heaps emerged with the ball from a tangle in front of Virginia's net and passed to defender Craig Jeidy, who poked in a 17-yarder. "We had punished ourselves enough by making two bad plays that had led to goals," Arena said afterward. "The third one killed us."
Heaps had scored the Blue Devils' first goal and set up their second. Although he had been courted by the Cavaliers, Heaps was never offered a scholarship, and he settled for Duke. "I did want to go to Virginia," he says, "and it hurt my feelings a little bit." The Cavs have been paying for the slight ever since. On Oct. 22, with Duke down 3-1 in the last 1:35 of overtime, Heaps scored twice to gain a tie. In the ACC tournament's semifinals, he kept Duke from being shut out in a 4-1 Virginia victory. Asked on Friday how it felt to snap the Cavs' 33-game unbeaten streak, Heaps was at a loss for words. "It's like we know what we've done," he said at last, "but it'll take a week to figure out how to say it."
In the small world of college soccer, Wisconsin seems as far away as Addis Ababa. When Jim Launder became the Badger coach in 1982, the sport wasn't exactly a high priority; it was hardly even in the athletic budget. As recently as 1991 he had to make do with 2.2 scholarships. Of the 9.9 he has now, none was offered to Jon Belskis, the 6'4", 215-pound fourth-year junior who became the Badgers' goalie in the second round of this year's playoffs when Todd Wilson dislocated his left elbow while making a save against William and Mary.
For three years Karen and Wayne Belskis had driven from their home in the Chicago suburbs to see their son play in Madison. And until two months ago, he had not. Did Karen ever doubt Jon was on the team? "No," she said. "I could see he was on the bench." Jon's game experience was limited to garbage time in a Sept. 29 rout of Northwestern. Still, he stepped in to shut down William and Mary four minutes into overtime in Wisconsin's 1-0 overtime win, and to blank SMU 2-0 in the quarterfinals.
In Wisconsin's semifinal match with Portland, Belskis could have minded the net from the sidelines. The Pilots got off just three shots, only one of which even required a save. To be fair, Portland was without its top scorer, sophomore forward Davide Xausa—called Herman by his teammates. Herman insists he can't play without his lucky shin guards. The NCAA insisted he couldn't play, period: He had picked up his eighth yellow card of the year in the quarterfinals and had to sit out the semis. Xausa-less in Richmond, Portland lost 1-0.
In spite of a 33° temperature and 15-mph winds, Sunday's championship match drew a sellout crowd of 21,319—a figure that exceeded the combined attendance of Wisconsin's first 23 games this season. The Blue Devils never warmed to the game. The bigger, brawnier Badgers would not let them near the net. Two goals scored off penalty box scrambles were all Wisconsin needed to secure its record fifth shutout of the playoffs and its 17th of the year. In 321 minutes of action, Belskis has not given up a goal.
As for Arena, after 295 victories, 15 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and five straight ACC titles, he is taking a leave of absence to coach the national under-23 team, the core of which will represent the U.S. at the '96 Olympics. This month he is also expected to accept a job as coach of D.C. United in Major League Soccer, the pro outdoor league that will kick off in April, with a season that extends until late September. Most insiders say if Arena takes that position, his leave from Virginia will become permanent.