2006 Men's Lacrosse Preview
Feb. 16, 2006
Charlottesville, Va. – The 2005 Virginia lacrosse season will be remembered as one of the most exciting in recent memory. Playoff wins over Albany and Navy and an epic semifinal with Johns Hopkins were a reflection of that team’s commitment and growth. It is now up to the 2006 Cavaliers to continue the progress made in the past year. A strong nucleus returns to Charlottesville, led by an experienced, powerful senior class and supported by a first-year class that has already demonstrated its depth and versatility. This group will make its presence felt early in the season. There was some spirited competition for playing time at key positions throughout fall lacrosse and some important decisions will have to wait until closer to the first game. The heightened sense of anticipation promises to elevate the preseason workouts and reminds the participants of how fleeting and precious these moments.
Denver, Syracuse, Johns Hopkins, Duke and newcomers Stony Brook and Bellarmine highlight the slate of home games. The return to M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore and the Eagles’ new stadium in Philadelphia for the ACC and NCAA Tournaments, respectively, provides all Virginia players and fans with ample motivation. Everyone is excited to begin the athletic journey that was once described by the indomitable Arthur Ashe as the “hard road to glory.”
Matt Ward’s four goals in the second-half performance in the 2005 semifinals was simply the most public statement of his stellar undergraduate career. A starter since his first day on Grounds, a returning All-American and a two-year captain, Ward has earned his way on to a select list of Virginia’s all-time greats, according to head coach Dom Starsia. “He is a powerful athlete who can attack the cage with reckless abandon. Matt sets the tone at the offensive end of the field,” said the Cavaliers’ 14-year head coach.
Sophomore Ben Rubeor had an outstanding rookie season despite battling two severely sprained ankles throughout the spring. “Ben is tough and smart and can also get to the cage. A full season from Ben elevates the entire team,” notes Starsia.
Freshman Danny Glading seems poised to complete the starting attack. He also saw some midfield time midfield in the fall and is a tall, sleek and strong athlete. “His ability and willingness to make the people around him better is a reflection of his background as a basketball point guard,” Starsia commented.
Another freshman who made a distinct early impression is Canadian Garrett Billings. “Garrett has a unique instinct around the cage and a scorer’s touch” said Starsia. “He surprised everyone with his quick adjustment to the field game and his ability to find the open man. Watch for Garrett as the season goes on.”
Sophomore Ryan Kelly is one of the strongest players on the team, according to Starsia. He scored three goals last season on just four shots and, “is very difficult for any individual defender to handle,” says the head coach.Junior Adam Fassnacht is poised to help the team in a number of areas. The only athlete ever named Washington Post first-team All-Met in three distinct sports, he remains one of the key candidates to handle the face-off chores this season.
Freshman Gavin Gill has one of the highest “lacrosse IQ’s” on the team, says Starsia. “As Gavin gets stronger, his game will continue to blossom. He may find an early role on the extra-man unit this spring,” said Starsia. “While not a big group in number, this attack unit is versatile and smart and poised to lead this team.”
There is enough experience and leadership in the midfield to spread out among the key units. Jared Little is in his fifth year in the program and is joined by seniors J.J. Morrissey, Kyle Dixon, Matt Poskay and Charlie Glazer, as well as junior Foster Gilbert. All have all played an important role since early in their freshman seasons. Little has played some attack during his career, been on the extra man unit, and is a creative offensive option.
Morrissey is considered one of the finest short stick defensive midfielders in the country. In addition, Starsia calls him “a most capable scorer” who stays on the field in the transition from defense to offense. “J.J. is one of the program’s hardest workers, most fit athletes and a leader on and off the field” says the team coach of one of the team’s captains.
Dixon, a preseason All-American, is one of the top returning midfielders in the country. “He is the rare middie who continues to make plays despite `drawing the pole’ from every opponent,” said Starsia. “He is uniquely gifted with size and quickness.”
Poskay scored 29 goals last year despite an injured hamstring that prevented him from being able to practice nor effectively dodge throughout the spring. Starsia marveled at his production. “His effort and performance approached heroic, as much for his surviving the good-natured ribbing from his teammates as for the impressive results.”
Glazer played a valuable role throughout his career as the top reserve faceoff specialist behind the graduated Jack deVilliers. Now, he is ready and anxious to “play the lead,” according to Starsia. “Our ability to face-off effectively this season will have a lot to say about our success.”Gilbert returns to the program, after a year away, stronger and more determined to be a significant factor. He has started on attack at times in his career and can be very effective from below the goal line extended. One of the best athletes on the team, “his play was a pleasant surprise this fall,” said Starsia.
Starsia believes junior Drew Thompson may be the most complete midfielder in the program. He ran on the first midfield last year and played some defensive midfield. The head coach says he will faceoff and could make an appearance on man-up or man-down, saying “he has worked very hard in preparation for this coming season.”
Sophomores Will Barrow and Jack Riley saw meaningful time as rookies last spring and are poised to make a more significant contribution in 2006. Both missed fall lacrosse–Barrow with a broken jaw and Riley with an illness–and now have some ground to make up. They are two of the program’s best athletes in Starsia’s eyes.
Fellow sophomore Drew Garrison shows flashes of the shooting and dodging ability required of a key player. “He has a strong left hand and the potential to crack one of the top units,” according to Starsia. It was a comfort to have redshirt freshman Kevin Coale complete an extended period of lacrosse since first injuring his foot in the spring of 2004. “Kevin is big and strong, a willing student and a quick study,” noted Starsia.
Freshmen Joe Dewey, Steve Giannone and Max Pomper will all be heard from early in 2006. Dewey is fast and athletic and a hard worker who needs the consistency that accompanies experience. Starsia calls Giannone an offensive `dynamo,’ saying “he impressed everyone with his ability to get to the cage. He has an attackman’s skills to complement his three-sport background.” Pomper came on in the second half of fall lacrosse. “He is a powerful, impressive athlete running up the field and can defend and get to the cage,” comments Starsia. “He’s an `old school’ two-way middie.”
“To run the field, to ride, to push and control the tempo of a game requires midfielders who are athletic and unselfish. This year’s unit has the ability to consistently demonstrate those characteristics,” Starsia said when talking about the group as a whole.
Senior co-captain Michael Culver leads a unit that starts the year a little younger than expected. The unexpected loss of two-year Steve Holmes leaves an athletic hole still to fill. Culver is a returning All-American, one of the program’s hardest workers and most experienced long sticks. He has both covered the nation’s best attackmen and played long stick midfield during his career. “Michael’s engine burns `white-hot’ all the time and his versatility is a valuable resource,” explains Starsia.
Junior Ricky Smith has also played both defensive positions in his first two years. He is tough and smart and one of the best checkers in the college game, according to the Cavalier head coach, adding, “Ricky began to show indications this fall that he understands and accepts the responsibility of leadership in our program.”
A number of players have joined the competition for playing time. Seniors Patrick Buchanan and Matt Paquet are both ready and willing. Buchanan has played a lot of valuable minutes throughout his career and is a steady, consistent hand. Paquet may be the most improved player in the program during his career and, at 6-5, 230 pounds, is a formidable figure. No matter their role, they are both important leaders on this team, says Starsia.
Sophomore James King trains and carries himself in a manner that reflects his Marine Corps experience and is a solid, steady and serious athlete who played in 13 games last season.
Sophomore Tim Shaw returns this season with the confidence and determination of someone ready to establish himself. “He is both strong and quick, one of the toughest to beat one-on-one. With a little more experience, Tim has the potential to burst on to the national scene,” says Starsia.
Freshman Matt Kelly is a “powerhouse” athlete with an uncanny, subtle instinct for the game. He could find himself on the close defense and/or coming in off the wing. “Opposing attackmen will feel Matt’s presence in the spring, in one form or another,” according to Starsia.
Junior Drew Jordan continues to focus on the work required to compete and has a clever stick, notes Starsia.
Two other freshmen are capable of helping both up top and behind, says Starsia. “Mike Britt and Chris Conlon have the potential for significant contributions and are beginning to appreciate the commitment required,” he adds.
Senior Chris Ourisman and redshirt freshman Mike Timms are presently the leading contenders to replace Rob Bateman as the long stick midfielders. Ourisman has a lot of experience and the poise that accompanies it. He was the team’s best face-off wing throughout during the fall. Timms returned to practice in the fall after missing last season with a knee injury. “He has enormous potential and an aggressive instinct disguised by his quiet demeanor,” said Starsia. “He really came on late in the fall.”
Sophomore Derek Pilipiak has a sharp stick and a sophisticated instinct for the unsettled game, but “he needs to continue to put a harder edge on his conditioning,” explains Starsia.
Sophomore Pike Howard transferred from Air Force and will certainly lend some depth to the defense as he begins his career in the orange and blue.
“There is still a lot of work to be done and decisions to be made at the defensive end of the field,” said Starsia at the start of preseason practice. “There are a number of new, interesting and determined candidates that will fill important roles.”
“Confidence in our overall play at the defensive end begins with the quality of our goalies,” says Starsia. “There are four young men, who have each lifted the team, in their own unique way, during the early workouts.”Junior Kip Turner exhibited the confidence that can only be developed by his play last spring. In his first year in the cage, Turner was consistently steady and solid. He was also outstanding, as demonstrated throughout the playoffs. “He has earned the confidence of the team,” said Starsia.Sophomore Bud Petit also had a solid season last spring. He improved throughout the season and his effort and performance continues to inspire his teammates. He had a great fall, according to Starsia.Senior Doug Brody may be the most improved athlete in all of college sports!, said Starsia. “He has worked extremely hard for four years and is a thoughtful and respected leader.”With several experienced goalies in front of him, freshman Mark Wade is expected to redshirt this season. “He is a big, strong athlete who surpassed everyone’s expectations this fall,” said the head coach.”We will need our play in the goal to `hold down the fort’ while some young defensemen establish themselves.”