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While any number of variables affect the evolution of an athletic season, one theme remains constant for coaches and athletes alikeplay your best at the very end. When Ben Rubeor’s shot slammed off the post in the second overtime of last season’s semifinals, it seemed a signal that the season’s best overall effort was not going to be rewarded with a trip to the finals. This heartbreaking end to an incredibly exciting season provided a wealth of experience to a young Cavalier team. It is now the charge of Dom Starsia’s 2009 Cavalier squad to draw on that experience as they prepare to meet the challenges of the season ahead. If the sharper focus so readily evident during fall ball is an accurate indication of intent, this team is quietly preparing itself to earn another opportunity at the very end of the coming season.

If you were picking someone to take that last shot, Ben Rubeor, one of the top attackmen to play for Starsia, certainly would have gotten that call. While one does not replace those qualities in a single sweep, the Cavaliers are blessed to count on three seniors who are ready to fill that void.

Three-year starter Danny Glading returns for his final season as one of the top attackman in the country.

“Danny’s play will reflect the pulse of the offense and he has emerged as one of the most dangerous dodgers in the college game,” said Starsia. “He is the team’s offensive leader.”

Garrett Billings began to expand his offensive game throughout last season according to Starsia. “Teams that overlooked his ability to get to the cage and find the open man paid severely,” he said. “Garrett is poised to reach even a higher level this spring.”

Gavin Gill has been a valuable asset throughout his career. “He has filled in ably at every attack spot, come in through the midfield and has been a mainstay on the top-rated man-up unit in the country,” Starsia said.

“The program benefits from the poise and leadership that these three demonstrate on and off the lacrosse field,” the head coach said.

Junior Tim Fuchs is a skilled, crafty veteran who has an uncanny knack around the goal. He has played on the man-up group and is expected to be a candidate for that role again this season.

Three freshmen have all made positive early impressions on the program. Steele Stanwick may have earned his way on to the starting unit.

“He is shifty, quick and owns a smooth stick,” Starsia said. “He also has that Ben Rubeor tougher than he looks’ quality. Steele earned the confidence of the team early in the fall.”

Starsia says Chris Bocklet is, “a strong athlete, a good shooter, with a slick stick. He is strong enough to lean in on a good defenseman and simply needs some of the confidence that accompanies experience.”

Matt Kugler may have been one of the most pleasant surprises of the fall. “He can split to both hands, is an efficient shooter and an effective dodger. He may also see some time in the midfield,” said Starsia.

“A nice mix of young and old and a versatile collection of talent and skills may combine for one of the top attack units in the country,” the Hall of Fame coach said in analyzing his attackmen.

Co-captain Max Pomper, a redshirt junior, leads a dynamic and athletic midfield corps that seeks to improve its consistency and production.

“Max is a powerful athlete who has played at both the offensive and defensive end during his career. His experience and enthusiastic leadership are important ingredients for this team,” said Starsia.

Seniors Steve Giannone and Joe Dewey also have key roles. Giannone has played on the first two midfields throughout his career. Starsia labels him, “one of the quickest, fastest and hardest working players in the program,” while adding, “he can get to the cage and is poised for his best season.”

Dewey missed some time during the fall due to an injury and may contribute as a student-coach as likely as playing this spring.

“His thoughtfulness and regard for the team is a beacon for his teammates,” said Starsia.

Juniors Brian Carroll and Mike Thompson are two of the program’s most powerful athletes, one on offense and one on defense. Carroll established himself as one of the top scoring middies in the country last season after scoring 28 goals.

“His compact, efficient shooting stroke is a reliable, deadly weapon,” said Starsia.

Thompson plays with what Starsia calls a “white hot engine” and makes plays all over the field from his defensive position.

“His willingness to run through walls has taken its toll on his body but, he sets a valuable tone for his teammates,” notes Starsia.

Three of the middies with the most offensive potential are in the sophomore class. Look for Shamel Bratton, John Haldy and Rhamel Bratton to emerge as important options in the offensive box. Shamel Bratton displayed glimpses of dominance in the fall and may work onto a short list of the leading midfielders in the country by season’s end, according to Starsia.

“His improved consistency stands out,” Starsia adds.

Haldy made the switch from attack to midfield in the fall and is steadily gaining the confidence that accompanies experience. A big player (6-3, 214), Starsia likes his potential this season. “He has good quickness and will be near-impossible to cover.”

Rhamel Bratton scored 10 goals last season and has also made great strides in the past year. “He can do everything on a lacrosse field and needs to tighten some of his fundamental skills in the box,” said Starsia. “He is working hard.”

Fellow sophomores Chris Clements, Nick Elsmo and Garett Ince played important minutes last year and should see their roles expand this season. Clements was hurt for part of last spring but demonstrated a knack for groundball and transition play.

“He is one of our top face-off wings,” notes Starsia.

Elsmo is one of the best all-around middies in the program. Starsia calls him, “smart and efficient at both ends of the field. He will get his first look on offense.”

Ince took most of the face-offs last year and has the ability to play offense. “He is strong, with a powerful shot and simply needs his daily effort to approach his potential,” said Starsia.

Juniors George Huguely and Kevin Carroll are both smart, experienced players. Huguely battled through some injuries last spring that limited him to 10 games.

“George is a crafty offensive player with an attackman’s skills and sense of the game. He can consistently get to the cage,” said Starsia. “Kevin provides some balance with his strong left hand and mature approach. He is in the mix.”

Redshirt freshman Colin Briggs missed the fall while recovering from foot surgery, but has the ability to work his way onto the field this season says Starsia.

Freshmen Brian McLinden and Brian Pomper both made a positive early impression in the fall. McLinden can play at both ends of the field, while Pomper surprised everyone with his instinct and competitiveness at the defensive end.

“Everyone is confident we will be better facing off but it may be well into the season before a pattern identifies itself,” said Starsia. The players who took most of the face-offs last year, Ince and junior Brian McDermott, return and are improved. They are going to be pushed by two newcomersDartmouth transfer Chad Gaudet and freshman Ryan Benincasa.

“Keeping McDermott in one piece is a key to his success,” Starsia said. “Gaudet faces off with his long pole and is an intense, powerful athlete. His attitude alone helps us. Benincasa impressed everyone this fall with his focus and dedication and has excellent technique.”

The group of long sticks returning this season may be the most experienced and athletic in recent memory at Virginia.

Redshirt senior co-captain Mike Timms returns as one of the top long stick midfielders in the country.

“Mike is an aggressive defender who is always looking to make plays. He is terrific with the ball on the ground and is a tenacious face-off wing,” according to Starsia.

Senior Matt Kelly has started every game on close defense in his remarkable career. The Illinois native is called “an instinctive athlete with a keen sense of anticipation and a powerful athlete” by Starsia.

Two juniors emerged with tremendous seasons a year agoKen Clausen and Ryan Nizolek.

Clausen was named a first-team All-American last season, while Nizolek moved into the starting line-up in midseason and emerged as the team’s most improved player.

“Ken is both quick and fast while consistently demonstrating an uncanny knack for coming up with a loose ball. He is getting stronger and looks forward to the individual match-ups with the nation’s top attackmen,” said Starsia. “Ryan is a powerful athlete, with a good stick. His confidence is soaring and we do not drop-off in any of those match-ups.”

Bray Malphrus played a significant role as a freshman last year. He is the hardest worker in the program and a key member of the defense.

“Bray has played mostly in the midfield but can fill in anywhere,” said Starsia. “His play is aggressive and physical.”

Sophomore Matt Lovejoy played primarily on man-down last year. He came back in top shape and got off to a great start in the fall, but an injury might sideline him this season.

Senior Chris Conlon missed all of last season, but played the best lacrosse of his career this fall and stood out in the Navy scrimmages.

“Chris is smart, with a sophisticated stick and can help out on the close and midfield defense,” said Starsia.

Junior Kyle Menendez also demonstrated the consistency that accompanies experience this fall.

“Kyle is a rangy athlete, with good speed,” Starsia notes. “He played very well in the fall scrimmages.”

Three freshmen showed glimpses of their potential throughout the fall. Peter Borror has a veteran’s sense of the game and may see most of his playing time at long stick middie. Wyatt Melzer can play both behind and up top and is working hard to improve his strength. Jarrid Puzes is another powerful athlete from Illinois who was slowed by an injury early in the fall.

Senior Michael Britt is an experienced player with a mature voice who helps the team in a number of areas.

Sophomore Adam Ghitelman started the first 10 games last year and helped that team get off to a great start. He can now draw on that experience, as well as his play in last summer’s Under-19 World Championships, as he prepares for this season.

“Adam is a confident athlete with a strong background in the game. He continues to work hard in anticipation of the opportunity to lead this team. He is poised for a great year,” said Starsia.

Redshirt junior Mark Wade is a big, strong, mature player, a leader and one of the program’s hardest workers says Starsia. “

He is poised to assume his role and his daily contribution makes us a better team. He is a valuable asset,” said Starsia.

Junior Rob Eimer is one of the team’s most improved and selfless players. He provides a valuable lefthanded look and works hard on the practice field and in the weight room.

“His positive personality makes him a team favorite,” said Starsia.

Freshman Rob Fortunato is big and strong and a solid stopper. He has outstanding potential and “is working hard to catch-up to the college clearing game,” according to Starsia.

Knowing the value of a good stopper Starsia said, “Our play in the goal will be a strength in 2009.”

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