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As you consider the 2008 college lacrosse season, it would not appear that the most recent graduation will have had much of an effect on traditional Virginia rivals North Carolina and NCAA finalists Johns Hopkins and Duke. Games with Drexel, Dartmouth and Stony Brook clearly now require the full measure of attention and preparation. Any teams with visions of postseason success will have to be considerably better just to remain the same. The national growth of lacrosse has elevated the profile of a number of college programs. The play this spring will be more competitive than ever according to head coach Dom Starsia.

Last season a young, spirited Cavalier squad battled its way to the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and should benefit significantly from the value of that experience, says Starsia. “The early, first-round departure from last year’s national championship provided a consistent edge to the fall and off-season workouts,” he said. “This Cavalier team is anxious to get back to the regular season opening face-off.”

Starsia’s squad has a healthy blend of young talent and seasoned veterans. A team that finds itself deeper and more athletic in the midfield, dynamic and experienced on the attack and more physical on defense will have to work together to support a new starter in the goal and at the face-off X. There is work to be done and a determination to return to championship weekend in Foxborough, Mass.

It is appropriate that a discussion of the personnel on this year’s Virginia team begins with senior Ben Rubeor. His influence on the program goes well beyond his selection as a first-team All-American, a Tewaaraton Award finalist, the Grey-Carrington Scholarship Award winner and a returning captain. He remains one of the team’s hardest workers and, says Starsia, “his subtle touch among his teammates provides a charismatic accessibility shared by only a select few peak athletic performers. Ben has been in the mix’ since his first day on Grounds and he is poised for another outstanding season.”

Juniors Danny Glading and Garrett Billings join Rubeor as returning starters on the attack. Glading seemed to be at a startlingly elevated level from the first day of fall lacrosse according to Starsia. “The confidence of experience, an increase of size and strength and an assertive determination will position him as an offensive force in the college game. He and Ben play off of each other very well,” said Starsia.

It is easy to regard Billings as simply a Canadian “sniper.” “He certainly is one of the team’s better scorers but there is also more to his game,” Starsia said. “Garrett is an excellent passer and the offensive flows through his hands. This trio provides some real match-ups problems for opposing defenses.”

Senior Ryan Kelly, one of the team’s strongest athletes, has assumed more responsibility with each season. He played a lot of important minutes last season and he is “a reliable, dependable and viable option on the attack” according to Starsia.

Junior Gavin Gill was intermittingly injured throughout last spring but demonstrated his versatility by playing both midfield and attack. He was a force in the first Duke game while asked to assume a number of roles. Starsia calls him an excellent shooter who provides an experienced hand.

Sophomore Tim Fuchs is the proverbial “sniper” in Starsia’s view. He has the uncanny ability to get open, catch and finish balls in the crease area.

Freshman John Haldy was called perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the fall by Starsia. He is big and strong, athletic and quick, with a deft touch. “He consistently showed an ability to turn the corner and find the open man. There is a very bright future here,” said the head coach.

Improved production in the midfield is a priority for the Cavaliers this season and it begins with the experience of a new fifth-year player and the improvement of some seasoned veterans.

Peter Lamade is a familiar name. He graduated from Duke last spring and his brother Ted was a UVa captain in 2004. “Peter is smart and tough, with a great stick and sense of the game. He will play an important role immediately,” Starsia said.

Senior Will Barrow has demonstrated a renewed sense of responsibility in the past year and has been voted a captain by his teammates. Barrow has been an outstanding face-off wing and “shut down” short stick defender during his career. “Will worked hard in preparation for his senior season and may expand those roles in the spring. His best season is still ahead,” said Starsia.

Fellow senior Jack Riley begins the season recovering from wrist surgery. He has been a regular fixture on the first two midfield lines throughout his career and possesses one of the hardest shots on the team. The team will be anxious for his healthy return.

Sophomore Brian Carroll ran on the first midfield last year and established himself as one of the game’s burgeoning talents. He is a strong athlete, with fundamentally sound stick work and developing as a dodger. Starsia notes that, “his offensive role continues to expand.”

Junior Steve Giannone returns as one of the team’s best and most versatile athletes. He is working his way back from a stress fracture that limited his participation in the fall. Hard working and motivated, Starsia says this may be his breakout year.

Redshirt sophomore Max Pomper is making the most of his first extended stretch of good health since his arrival in Charlottesville. “He is a strong, forceful athlete who can make a difference at both ends of the field,” according to Starsia.

Sophomores George Huguely and Mike Thompson both made important contributions last season. Huguely is big and strong, but also skilled and a talented offensive middie in the eyes of Starsia, and could also help the team at attack. Starsia calls Thompson “a dynamo.” “He is one of our hardest workers, with an engine that burns all-out.” He is expected to handle some faceoffs as well as see time at defensive midfield.

Seniors Kevin Coale and Drew Garrison are talented, mature veterans willing to assume a variety of roles throughout their careers. Starsia says they are a most valuable influence on their teammates.

Sophomore Kevin Carroll and junior Joe Dewey are versatile “old school” middies, very good between the lines, smart and capable of playing on the top lines.

Sophomore Brian McDermott is beginning to demonstrate the confidence and determination that comes with experience. “He is a strong, fiery athlete,” according to Starsia, and begins the season as the team’s top face-off man.

A corps of talented freshmen will quickly begin to make their presence felt. Rhamel Bratton is the unique blend of a sizzling athlete with skills and a sophisticated sense of the game. Twin brother Shamel displays many of these same qualities from the left side. Colin Briggs really came on late in fall lacrosse and has a burst to the cage and an offensive knack. Chris Clements is quick and tough and impressed everyone this fall with his tenacity and ground ball play. Nick Elsmo is another from the old school: he faces off, defends and moves smartly on offense. Last but not least of the freshmen is a powerhouse Canadian, Garett Ince. Ince also faces off and possesses a blistering left-handed shot.

Redshirt junior Mike Timms is one of the top returning long stick midfielders in the country. “He really began to assert himself last season and plays the game with the edge of someone who wants to make plays,” said Starsia. “He has become a leader, on and off the field.”

Sophomore Ken Clausen is fast and athletic and one of the best defenseman in college lacrosse, especially with the ball on the ground. Starsia said, “Ken is now looking forward to his match ups with the nation’s top attackmen.”

Junior Matt Kelly has displayed an uncommon poise and athlete’s instincts in his two years in the starting line up. He is one of the program’s strongest players and “hits like a ton,” according to Starsia.

Senior Tim Shaw played the best lacrosse of his career in the fall and is poised to assume a leading role. Starsia notes that Shaw, “is a tenacious one-v-one defender.”

Sophomore Ryan Nizolek had a breakout fall and may jump directly to a national presence. He has a terrific stick and his play will continue to improve as he gains experience and the season goes on.

Freshman Bray Malphrus played in the midfield and on the wing of the face off. He is a tireless worker, aggressive and determined and will play an important role this season.

Junior Chris Conlon has a sophisticated stick and a poised demeanor and may see time as a long stick defensive middie this season.

Freshman Matt Lovejoy is a talented, physical athlete with a clever stick. He was hampered with stress fractures during the off-season.

Sophomore Kyle Menendez and junior Michael Britt continue to work hard, gain confidence and make progress. Menendez is lean and fast, active in loose ball play, while Britt is strong and solid, recovering from recent shoulder surgery.

Senior Pike Howard is a smart, sound defender who can play up top and behind. He remains a dignified, mature voice in the program, according to the head coach.

The play in the goal will have a lot to say about the success of this season’s team. Kip Turner was a calm and steadying influence since stepping between the pipes in 2005.

Bud Petit returns for his fifth year at Virginia. “Bud is a passionate, artistic soul who plays the goal with energy and enthusiasm. He worked hard this fall and played well in an extended appearance against Navy,” said Starsia.

Redshirt sophomore Mark Wade is a powerful athlete and a very hard worker. He prepared thoroughly during the fall for the upcoming competition in goal.

Sophomore Rob Eimer has improved dramatically since making the team as a walk-on last year. Eimer is a selfless teammate and a most positive influence, notes Starsia.

Freshman Adam Ghitelman displayed uncommon poise throughout the fall according to Starsia. Ghitelman stops the ball and throws a sharp outlet pass. “While the characteristics of each of these candidates began to distinguish themselves this fall, it will be in to the spring before any decisions are made. It remains a spirited competition,” Starsia said.

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