National championship hunt starts Sunday
In the immortal words of former catcher Yogi Berra, Virginia’s first round playoff game against Villanova Sunday is a case of dj vu all over again for head coach Dom Starsia. Except the 17-season Cavalier mentor didn’t know it.
“I’m so oblivious to some of that stuff that when someone asked me on the night of the selection show if we ever played Villanova, I didn’t think we had, I had no recollection of it,” Starsia said. “Then I got called back and they said, in case anybody asks you, you played them in your first game at UVa.’”
That game back in the 1993 season opener saw the Cavaliers open the Starsia era with a 21-6 win.
“I do remember that game out at Scott Stadium, but I don’t think the play in that game is going to have much bearing on this one,” he said.
After suffering two losses, both to Duke, in the last three games the Cavaliers are anxious to get going again.
“Everybody is anxious to get off to a good start and get onto a little bit of a roll as we move into the playoffs,” Starsia said.
The Cavaliers are in the national playoffs for the 16th time in Starsia’s 17 years in Charlottesville, while Villanova is making its tournament debut. The Wildcats enter the match-up with an 11-5 record and are one of the hottest teams in the country. They also don’t appear to be fazed by playing on the road in the postseason either. They won the Colonial Athletic Association title last weekend with a 10-9 win over Towson on Towson’s home field after shocking Hofstra 9-7 in the first round on the Pride’s home field on Long Island.
Even though he hasn’t faced them in 16 years, Starsia wasted little time getting familiar with the Wildcats spending much of the past week poring over 6-7 games worth of film.
“It’s a very solid lacrosse team, no holes that you can see,” he said. “They’re very good in the goal, very good in the defensive midfield in particular, and very balanced at the offensive end of the field.”
Goalie Andrew DiLoreto was named the Most Outstanding Player of the CAA Tournament and is ranked third nationally in goals allowed average (6.68) and 17th in save percentage (.566). Overall the Wildcats feature the country’s fourth-best defense that relinquishes just 7.0 goals per game.
Their longstick midfielder, Brian Karalunas, was named the CAA Defensive Player of the Year and leads the team with 63 ground balls and 21 caused turnovers.
The offense is experienced with six of the top-nine scorers either being juniors or seniors. Senior attack Tim Driscoll leads the way with 27 goals, while classmate Chris MacDonald is tops with 23 assists and 31 total points. The midfield can put points on the board as well with senior Matthew Fritts scoring 23 goals and assisting on five more, sophomore Mike Brennan assisting on 17 while scoring nine, and freshman C.J. Small tallying 15 goals.
“We know that they have real good sticks,” said Virginia defenseman Ken Clausen. “They’re going to be real methodical in the way they’re going to approach our defense. We know that we’ve got to be patient and play good team (defense) and make sure we’re communicating a good bit and just be ready to adapt to what they throw at us and be ready to take what comes.”
As the semester has come to a close the Cavaliers have had their time divided between exams and game preparation, while also trying to erase the memory of the two recent losses.
“I think it has been nice to have a couple weeks (off),” said attackman Danny Glading. “People had exams, but we’ve been able to get a lot of good practices in and regroup. We’re working on the things we needed to work on and I think we’re in a better position now than we were two weeks ago going into the tournament.”
For lacrosse players and coaches, it’s all about what happens in the next several weeks. Starsia has stated frequently that season’s are judged by the outcomes in May.
“At this time of the year there’s no other story other than playing your best lacrosse,” said Starsia. “We’re going to have to play our best to get this game and that’s what we expect of ourselves.”