Men's Lacrosse Opens Season Sunday vs. Drexel
Feb. 19, 2002
Charlottesville, Va. – There is a great deal of anticipation and excitement surrounding the start of the 2002 lacrosse season for head coach Dom Starsia and his Cavaliers. The return of four All-America selections, a home schedule that includes traditional powers Syracuse, Princeton, Notre Dame, Johns Hopkins and Duke and a premature exit from last year’s national playoffs have whetted the team’s appetite. There is a nice blend of young and old this season and improved depth and athletic ability should make this a fun group to watch. Virginia will again play the most challenging schedule in the college game, including games against all four national semifinalists from last season, and the experience should prepare the Cavaliers for a deep run into the NCAA playoffs.
“Last year was a struggle,” said Starsia, “because our inexperience, some key injuries and our challenging schedule took away any margin for error. I hope last year’s experience will provide a basis for our team to build on this season. We had a good fall practice period. I think the leadership of older players such as David Burman, Conor Gill, Billy Glading, Mark Koontz, Eric Leibowitz and Chris Rotelli, combined with the outstanding ability and potential of younger players like Tillman Johnson, Brett Hughes, and a couple of key freshmen, will be the nucleus of a squad that should be in competition for ACC and NCAA titles.”
The squad breakdown follows.
Gill, bidding to become the first three-time first-team All-American in the program’s history, is one of the most gifted offensive players in the country. He led the ACC in scoring (3.77/g) and assists (2.62/g) for the second year in a row last season despite drawing every opponent’s defensive attention.
A leading candidate for national Player of the Year honors, he is the type of player with the rare ability to make the other players around him better. “Much of our offense runs through Conor,” says Starsia. “It will be his responsibility to initiate offensively and to guide our younger attackmen through some early playing situations. Unselfish and poised beyond his years, Conor’s ability to ‘see’ the open man and deliver the pass, lifts the the entire offensive unit.”
Starsia calls Gill a “leader and a gentleman” and his play in 2002 will go a long way in determining the success of this season.
Shure has had an injury-plagued career, but he brings a positive spirit and a dynamic style to the squad. Third among active ACC players in career goals, he finished as the team’s third-leading scorer last season with 14 goals and a career-high 15 assists.
Two exciting newcomers look to make their way into the attack unit-John Christmas and Joe Yevoli. Both are quick and creative, intense, focused and uncommonly poised. “They elevated the level of our offensive play throughout the fall and I expect both to contribute quickly come spring,” said Starsia.
Others looking to contribute on the attack this season include junior Hatcher Snead (1a), a local product who played his best lacrosse in the fall, and freshmen Brendan Gill-Conor’s younger brother-and Jimmy Barter.
The first midfield returns three players from last season who played significant roles, although only junior Chris Rotelli was a regular starter at midfield.
Rotelli exploded on the national scene scoring a team-leading 28 goals and earning All-America honors last season. “He is a powerful offensive player whose work engine runs white hot,” says Starsia. “He’s a leader who wants the ball in crucial situations.”
Junior Billy Glading (9g, 4a) ran aside Rotelli before and after a serious ankle injury midway through last season. With a point guard’s quickness and vision and good skills, Glading seems poised for his breakout season.
Junior A.J. Shannon played primarily on attack last year before moving to the midfield late in the season. An explosive scorer, Shannon tallied 15 goals to tie for third on the squad, and the move has become a comfortable fit. “A.J. had an excellent fall. We can now use him in a number of different spots on the field,” according to Starsia. “He is one of the team’s strongest players and I expect him to create consistent scoring opportunities.”
Senior Eric Leibowitz (2g) has played a number of roles throughout his career. He was the leading midfield scorer at the fall tournament and was voted a tri-captain by his teammates.
One of the most improved players throughout the fall was junior Andrew Faraone (3g), always one of best skilled offensive players, and now one of the team’s hardest workers. Seniors Nick Russo and Brenndan Mohler (5g, 1a) have played regularly in both offensive and defensive situations during the past three years and will be expected to be solid contributors again this spring. Sophomore Ted Lamade (2g, 1a) also began to emerge in the fall and is actively involved in a spirited competition for a spot on the first two midfield lines. Red-shirt freshman Joe Thompson missed last season due to an injury, but he is a consistent, well-rounded middie, according to Starsia.
The team’s most significant loss is faceoff man David Jenkins. A workhorse, he won 58 percent of his draws last season and always seemed to come up with a big play when most needed.
“The ability of our team to control face-offs will be a key factor throughout the season,” Starsia commented.
Senior Jason Leneau (.400), junior Calvin Sullivan (.667) and two freshmen, Jack deVilliers and Nathan Kenney, are working hard to assume this role. Sullivan is the most experienced of the returnees, he won two-thirds of his faceoffs last season, while deVilliers was regarded as one of the top prep faceoff specialists during his career at Baltimore’s St. Paul’s School.
Kenney and deVilliers, both tremendous athletes, are also quite capable of running on the top midfield lines, giving the team its most depth in the midfield in several years. Joining them in the midfield mix are classmates Jared Little and Hunter Kass. Little is a crafty offensive player who is very dangerous around the goal, while Kass, a high school All-American, has vast potential and a hard shot, according to the coaches.
The most obvious area of strength for the 2002 Cavaliers is on defense, highlighted by the return of the top-five long-stick men. Their experience allows Starsia to move them around between close defense and midfield.
Two-time All-American Mark Koontz headlines the defensive unit. One of the most dominant players in the country, Koontz was assigned to the opposition’s top threat last spring and didn’t disappoint. He led ACC long poles with 67 ground balls, the second year in a row he did so. He exhibits extraordinary stick skills and has an uncanny knack for picking off passes.
Due to his athleticism and the depth on the defensive end, Koontz may see his role expand somewhat this spring. “I like the possibilities of him running in the midfield, supporting our faceoff men,” said Starsia. “He is such an intelligent player that I’d like to see him able to play more of the field which he can do in the midfield.”
Like Koontz, sophomore Brett Hughes (45gb) hails from Upper Arlington, Ohio and completes UVa’s “Ohio Connection.” Hughes started every game as a rookie and looks to become another in a long line of defensive stoppers under Starsia. “It’s tough to be a freshman defenseman in division I, but Brett held up in every situation last season,” says Starsia. “He sets a very high standard for his own play which will enable him to grow and excel in the future.”
Junior David Burman (19gb) started last year on both the close and midfield defense in the first extensive action of his career. A dominant athlete, Burman is just beginning to approach his potential. “David was clearly our most improved player in the fall,” said Starsia. “If his play this fall is indicative of how he’s going to play in the spring, watch out!”
Burman and junior Ned Bowen (1g, 13gb) alternated spots last spring, out front and behind. Bowen was with the UVa football team and did not participate in fall ball, but he gives Starsia and company another strong athletic option. Junior Trey Whitty (2g, 1a, 19gb) was the second long stick middie last spring and has worked hard to become a stronger, more mature player. Two sophomores, Andrew Agoliati (6gb) and Zach Heffner (1gb), are among the program’s very fastest players. Both players took advantage of opportunities in the fall and could see their playing time increase this season.
Supporting the top-five are a mix of veterans and newcomers. Red-shirt junior Ryan Myerberg (1gb) has been a most mature and valuable member of the defensive group throughout his career and has versatile skills. Junior Ryan Binder and sophomore Kevin McGrath, the last two winners of the Doyle Smith Award for the highest GPA on the team, have steadily improved throughout their careers and could provide valuable minutes. Freshman Matt Paquet is a big, strong defender who played well in the fall. As he gets stronger and more consistent, he will be a force according to Starsia.
Freshman Steve Holmes is an unknown quantity heading into the spring. One of the best athletes in the program, he was a wide receiver on the UVa football team in the fall and did not practice with lacrosse. Nonetheless, he was a high school All-American defenseman last season and could be a big surprise this season.
Tillman Johnson came to UVa as one of the top recruits in the nation last year and didn’t let the rigors of UVa’s demanding schedule bother him. Playing with the poise of a seasoned veteran, he became the first goalie ever named ACC Rookie of the Year. He started every game between the pipes and finished ninth in the nation with an average of 8.34 goals allowed per game. His .571 save percentage was the highest by a Cavalier netminder in more than a decade. “Tillman is clearly one of the leading goalies in the country,” says Starsia. “He is a big, strong athlete, whose daily work habits and spectacular play regularly ‘lift’ the entire team. He will be a mainstay on defense for us again this season.”Fellow sophomore Ryan Thompson plays a valuable role as Johnson’s primary backup. He did a good job when needed last season, especially in an appearance vs. eventual national champion Princeton. Senior George Greczmiel and freshman walk-on Ben Roberts are both big, strong goalies will join the competition for reserve minutes this season.