By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A productive fall for UVa men’s lacrosse ended Sunday with scrimmages against Navy and the U.S. national team in Annapolis, Md.
In more than a quarter-century as a Division I head coach, Dom Starsia has seen players dazzle in some scrimmages and struggle in others. How a team plays in the fall, he’s learned, is not a great indication of how it will fare in the spring.
“No matter what had happened yesterday,” Starsia said Monday, “I was very pleased with the quality of our practices throughout the fall. We went a week longer this year, so we actually practiced a little bit more, and I don’t think we had two bad days throughout the fall.”
That said, Starsia headed to Annapolis knowing that his team’s performance there would stick with him into the winter, for better or worse.
“It really doesn’t matter what happens, it’s just another day in the fall,” he said, “but you’re either going to be sort of chafed until you come back to it in January, or you’re going to feel that at least we can catch our breath here a bit. So it was a good end to the fall, with two very competitive scrimmages.”
Final scores from these games aren’t announced, as anyone who’s attended a UVa scrimmage at the U-Hall Turf Field knows. But the Wahoos, after a slow start attributable in part, perhaps, to sluggishness from their morning bus ride to Annapolis, played the Midshipmen about even.
“Navy might have been slightly ahead, 11-10 or something like that,” Starsia said. “But there were enough sparks there to feel OK about how we were playing. Navy clearly carried the play to us to start out, but I thought we got up to speed as that scrimmage wore on.”
The trend continued against the U.S. team, which the Wahoos defeated. “I thought we played well in that scrimmage,” Starsia said.
The Cavaliers did so despite missing several key players, including defenseman Ryan Nizolek, defensive midfielders Chris Clements and Mike Thompson and All-America middie Shamel Bratton.
Nizolek, Clements and Thompson are recovering from injuries. Bratton’s issue?
“Little bit of a sore hamstring, little bit of a sore subject,” said Starsia, who didn’t elaborate. “Just held him out to get his attention on some things.”
When the ‘Hoos opened fall practice last month, Starsia said he expected the battles for playing time on the attack to carry over into 2010. His position hasn’t changed.
“If you have a competition in the goal, you try and say, ‘OK, who’s going to be the starter in the first game?'” Starsia said. “I don’t think that matters on the attack right now. I think there’s no question that we’re going to rotate four or five guys there.
“They bring different things to the table, and I think right now they’re so young that to expect any three of those guys to play 60 minutes in every game would be frightening. I think the depth we have there right now is healthy for us.”
Virginia’s top four attackmen are freshmen Matt White and Connor English and sophomores Chris Bocklet and Steele Stanwick, the lone returning starter. Other possibilities are freshmen Matt Cockerton and Nick O’Reilly and senior Tim Fuchs.
In Annapolis, Starsia said, “we rotated all those guys pretty freely throughout the day, with the one constant kind of being Steele.”
UVa’s midfield lines are more settled. Five middies separated themselves during the fall: returning starters Shamel Bratton and Brian Carroll, plus John Haldy, Rhamel Bratton and Chris LaPierre. Carroll is a senior, and the Bratton twins and Haldy are juniors. LaPierre is a 6-2, 215-pound freshman.
Other midfielders likely to play in 2010 include sophomores Colin Briggs and Matt Kugler and senior George Huguely.
With Nizolek out, UVa’s starting defensemen in the scrimmages were freshman Harry Prevas, sophomore Matt Lovejoy and senior Ken Clausen, a returning All-American. Junior Bray Malphrus started at long-stick middie, and junior Adam Ghitelman was in the cage.
“Adam had a good day,” Starsia said.
Ghitelman’s backup had a mixed day. Sophomore Rob Fortunato struggled against Navy, so much so that the coaching staff debated whether to play him against the U.S. team.
“I told Robert at the end of the Navy scrimmage, ‘You played better in almost any practice this fall than you did out there,'” Starsia said. “But we put him in the fourth quarter [vs. the U.S.], and he actually played very well. I was very glad for that, because he’s had a good fall.”
It’s been years since UVa has had a dominant faceoff specialist, and it’s too early to say if 2010 will be any different. A season ago, the ‘Hoos won 54.5 percent of their draws, with Chad Gaudet taking most of them with a long stick.
With Gaudet gone, Starsia’s options are juniors Brian McDermott and Garett Ince, sophomore Ryan Benincasa and LaPierre, whose strength and athleticism are his biggest assets.
“In the U.S. scrimmage, I didn’t know if we would win a faceoff,” Starsia said, “and I would say that we probably split that one 50-50. Sometimes I have no idea with these statistics, but that’s how it felt to me. So I was fairly pleased with that throughout the day, the faceoff part of it.”
McDermott, who’s been slowed by injuries during his college career, emerged during the fall as Virginia’s top faceoff specialist.
“He took most of the key faceoffs [Sunday], and I thought he had a very good day overall,” Starsia said. “He took most of the faceoffs against [former Delaware great] Alex Smith in the USA scrimmage, and I would say that he more than held his own there.
“Benincasa might have the best technique. Brian has got good technique, and he’s a better athlete, so he’s more capable of picking the ball up himself and making a play.”
All the players who missed time in the fall because of injuries, Starsia said, should be ready for the start of practice in January.
The ‘Hoos are coming off a season in which they finished 15-3 after losing to Cornell in the NCAA semifinals at Foxborough, Mass.
Highlights of UVa’s 2010 schedule will include games against defending NCAA champion Syracuse and Johns Hopkins at Klöckner Stadium.