Cavaliers, Orange Battle in National Semifinals
Boston, Mass.The Cavaliers have returned to the national semifinals for the first time in two years where they will face Syracuse Saturday at noon. After several years alternating between Philadelphia and Baltimore, this year’s championship weekend has moved north to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home of the NFL’s New England Patriots.
Last season the team failed to advance past the first round in an attempt to repeat as champions. And the failure to get back to championship weekend gave the team a sense of purpose as it worked to return this season.
“I don’t think (getting to the semifinals) was something that consumed us,” said Virginia head coach Dom Starsia. “I can tell you that when we got to the end of the regular season it easily came to mind. The week before our first (NCAA Tournament) game on the practice field, I talked with the team and I said to them, I feel like we’ve been waiting 12 months to be back here again.’
“We’ve had a good season. We’ve won some big games and we’ve done some big things, but in our sport people remember is what happens in the month of May. In 2007 coming off our national championship in 2006, we had a terrific regular season, but getting dumped early in the playoffs was the lasting impression that everyone had of that season. It was a little bit unfair but I understand that it’s going to happen, so we were anxious to get back this season and do a better job.”
It’s a big job the Cavaliers face in an attempt to still be playing on Memorial Day. Syracuse is 14-2 overall and one of the hottest teams in the country coming down the stretch.
Virginia gained a dramatic 14-13 overtime win in the Face-Off Classic in Baltimore earlier this season in the first meeting between the two teams. After that loss, the Orange rattled off 10 straight wins.
Brian Carroll’s goal with 1:29 remaining in overtime to send Virginia home with a 1-goal win in the first meeting almost perfectly characterizes the history of the series, one that has blossomed under Starsia into one of the most highly anticipated games on the calendar whether it’s the regular season or the playoffs.
Close distinguishes virtually everything about the series with the Orange. Virginia holds a narrow 12-11 series lead. In the series that dates back to 1938, both teams have scored exactly 310 goals.
Under Starsia the Cavaliers have won 10 of 20 meetings, while outscoring the Orange 281-280. Twelve games have been decided by one or two goals.
While fans pine for a replay of the 1997 classic between the two teamsa game Syracuse won 22-21they are likely to get an uptempo game with plenty of action.
“In a lot of ways I think we are a mirror images of each other, the style of play, talented offensive groups, teams that get it up and down the field,” said Starsia. “This (playoff) game tends to play a little closer to the vest than the one earlier in the year does, so I don’t think we’re likely to see 22-21 like we did in ’97. But I don’t think we’re going to see 8-7 like we played Maryland last weekend either.”
The Orange are second in the nation in offense averaging 13.75 goals per game, while Virginia ranks fourth at an average of 12.88 goals. Syracuse feasts on unsettled situations and looks to score quickly in those situations.
“I think it’s one of the keys to the game for usnot letting them get behind us. Even in the game that we won earlier in the year they got behind us for some goals,” Starsia said. “They are so dangerous when they can create an advantage for themselves. So if we have to give up a little bit of our ability to get the ball back on the ride in order to make sure that we have enough bodies back on defense, then we’re going to have to do that. I feel that there’s only a couple of teams that can force our hands like that and this is one of them.”