Cavaliers Primed For Next Title Run
Feb. 16, 2007
From cstv.com Feb. 15, 2007
By Jake Schwartzstein
Special to CSTV.com
With the graduation of 2006 Player of the Year Matt Ward, who led the team with 67 points in addition to other key contributors such as Matt Poskay (47 points) and Kyle Dixon (41 points), people are wondering if it’s possible for No. 1-ranked Virginia to match the success of last year’s team.
Just don’t include any of the players or coaches as people who are concerning themselves with another undefeated season.
“We never talk about going undefeated–we have too difficult a schedule,” said coach Dom Starsia, who won the 2006 Howdy Myers “Man of the Year” award. “I tell [the players] they can dream big, but have to think small. Take care of today’s requirements and the rest will take care of itself.”
It sounds clichéd to say the players are taking it “one game at a time,” but when asked about last year, the players say an undefeated season was something they never even considered until it was absolutely necessary.
“It’s kind of weird [looking back],” said co-captain Ben Rubeor, a junior. “We didn’t hear anyone mention an undefeated season until we got to the playoffs and then Poskay said something that clicked. `We had to go undefeated to win the championship.’ “
Despite a dominating season in which they outscored opponents 269-129– with an average margin of victory of 8.23 goals–Starsia says one of the keys to their success was not underestimating any opponents.
“We need to play Drexel the same way we play Syracuse,” Starsia said. “We can’t get too full of ourselves.”
This season will surely be more trying than the last for a number of reasons. In addition to losing some high-quality players and having a less experienced team, the Cavaliers know opponents will be aiming to dethrone them.
“Everyone is gunning for us,” said co-captain Drew Thompson, a senior. “We’ve got the bulls-eye on us.”
Thompson is one of the few Cavaliers familiar with this feeling. He played on the defending champion Virginia team in 2004, which struggled mightily.
“For seniors it’s similar to freshman year when we went 5-8,” he said. “We lost the first few games and it steamrolled from there. We’re concerned with not letting that happen [this year]. It means being focused and not taking anyone lightly, making sure we’re ready for every game.”
Though Rubeor wasn’t on that 5-8 team, he took a lesson from it, nonetheless.
“We learned we cannot look back,” said Rubeor, who tallied 34 goals and 24 assists last season to finish second on the team in points with 58. “We can’t go into the season thinking about the year before. Every year is a new season.”
With an 11-match stretch in which Virginia plays eight ranked teams, including contests with No. 2 Johns Hopkins, No. 3 Syracuse, No. 4 Princeton, No. 6 Duke and No. 7 Maryland, Thompson’s words couldn’t ring truer, but the Cavaliers are welcoming the challenge.
“Our philosophy is that we prefer to play the best teams in the regular season because it sets us up for the playoffs,” Rubeor said.
While one of the biggest knocks on this year’s squad is inexperience, Thompson is unconcerned with that aspect of the team.
“This is one of the best practice teams I’ve been on,” he said. “[The new starters] became pretty comfortable practicing against last year’s starters.”
Rubeor thinks it will be exciting to observe the improvement of the new starters.
“People understand we don’t have experience, but it’s fun,” Rubeor said. “It will be neat to see some younger guys step into new roles.”
Starsia points out that inexperience lies particularly in the midfield.
“We return experience on both ends of the field,” he said. “We have a good goalie and we have the foundation for really good attack play. It’s the middle of the field where we need the most work. Dixon was a freak of nature. He could create offense on our worst days and Poskay provided 70 goals over the past two years. We need to establish that pressure again.”
Of course, the No. 1 priority of any team is to stay healthy, and that remains Starsia’s ultimate concern. Losing a few games here or there is not as important as being healthy when the postseason arrives.
“We need to stay in one piece, even if we stumble early,” Starsia said. “If we can stay healthy in the second half, we have a chance to be a dangerous team in May.”
Like last year, Starsia and the rest of the Cavaliers won’t worry about finishing undefeated. Hoisting that championship trophy come May will do just fine.
To view the complete article and 2007 Men’s Lacrosse Preview at cstv.com, click here Cavaliers Primed for Next Title Run.