Amherst’s Aaron James returns to Massachusetts with top-ranked Virginia soccer squad

  • Aaron James, a Williston Northampton graduate, is shown playing for No. 1-ranked Virginia. The Cavaliers play at Boston College, Friday night. COURTESY VIRGINIA ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS

  • Aaron James, right, a Williston Northampton graduate, is a member of the No. 1-ranked Virginia men’s soccer team. The Cavaliers play at Boston College, Friday night. COURTESY VIRGINIA ATHLETICS MEDIA RELATIONS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/10/2019 6:52:48 PM
Modified: 10/10/2019 6:52:38 PM

Aaron James was used to being the best player on every soccer team he played on.

And the Williston Northampton graduate had a lot of teams. He moved from Washington, D.C. to Amherst in 2012 and along the way featured for D.C. United’s Academy team, Williston’s varsity squad and the New England Revolution Academy team among other spring club teams.

That changed when he arrived at Virginia in 2017.

“I was coming from across the country, you’re used to being a big fish in a little pond, some guys make that transition faster or quicker as they come into playing on a team,” said James, now a redshirt junior. “It was something you have to shift your ego and the way you conceive your identity and how you exist within a team.”

James learned how to fit within the Cavaliers’ team from older players. Now that he’s one of those older players, James has assumed a mentorship role within the best team in the country. Virginia is ranked No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches Division I poll and has been since Oct. 1.

“I think as a fourth year I provide some senior leadership, which can help some younger guys acclimate to the team and being on a team where you might not be the best and you have to adjust the way you carry yourself,” James said.

The Cavaliers (10-0, 4-0 ACC) will face Boston College at 7 p.m. Friday in Boston, riding the nation’s longest winning streak. It’ll be the first time James has played in Massachusetts since joining Virginia.

“Western Mass. is home for me. Being back in New England always brings back positive memories,” James said.

The Cavaliers have only allowed one goal all season and are riding a 627-minute shutout streak that spans six games.

“Streaks are cool and a thing to be proud of, but we have our eyes on silverware and that means not being ahead of ourselves,” James said.

Virginia has won seven national titles and 10 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament championships, but it hasn’t lifted a trophy since the 2014 NCAA Tournament.

James has appeared in six games this season, starting three. He played the full 90 minutes against both Duke and Radford, and went 80 minutes in Friday’s 2-0 win over No. 24 Louisville. James spends most of his time on the right side of the field anywhere from right back up to the wing.

“I can be in and out filling different gaps,” he said.

He’s bought into the Cavaliers’ team culture and ethos. Virginia detests being scored on. The only goal it allowed was in the fifth minute at then-No. 2 Duke in mid-September. The Cavaliers’ defense begins the moment they lose the ball, when they begin pressing to win it back.

“No team at this level in the country tracks back to get it back the way we do,” James said.

Playing that way takes a level of cohesion Virginia built beyond the soccer pitch. The team regularly goes out for sushi nights, sees movies and plays mini golf together.

“We do enjoy each other and spending time together that allows for being a more cohesive unit. We cheer for every goal on the bench because it’s an opportunity to show your teammates you care about them,” James said. “This team is one I really enjoy playing with, it’s been a pleasure so far.”

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