Unfinished Business: 2010 Men's Lacrosse Season Outlook
Boasting eight NCAA Final Four appearances in the past 11 seasons, including two straight, reflects the elevated measure of the team’s annual goals and the narrow perspective that defines success.
There is an acute feeling of unfinished business going in to the 2010 season and a heightened sense of urgency for a senior class searching for its first national championship. If the quality of the performances during the fall and in the off-season workouts is a reliable indication of potential and intent, there is every reason for fans of Virginia Lacrosse to be very excited about the opening face-off.
While there are a lot of new faces in important roles, there are also a lot of anxious players awaiting additional responsibilities. This is a team that will work hard to improve as the season goes on, looking to hit its stride in the playoff month of May. That journey will include increased TV exposure throughout the season, the most exciting schedule in the college game, an appearance in the Giants and Jets new NFL facility at the Meadowlands, the prospect of record crowds at Klöckner Stadium and almost certainly the close games and exciting action that always accompanies Virginia Lacrosse.
It may be hard to believe that the experienced hand leading the attack belongs to a sophomore, the 2009 ACC Rookie of the Year, Steele Stanwick. Playing alongside Danny Glading and Garrett Billings one year and being the center of attention the next is a big change in responsibility for Steele. If it were almost anyone else, there would be greater concern amongst the staff. “Steele continues to get stronger, more forceful and exhibits uncommon poise and maturity,” said Virginia head coach Dom Starsia.
There will be learning pains for a young attack in 2010 but the leadership is in good hands. Classmate Chris Bocklet looks to play alongside Steele. “Chris is a clever, instinctive offensive player who moves smartly without the ball and is one of the program’s best shooters,” said Starsia. “He is a very hard worker, anxious to assume an important starting role.”
Senior Tim Fuchs is an efficient inside left-handed attackman who has experience on the first extra man unit.
Four freshmen round out the unit and any number will see time early in the season. Matt White’s game reflects his experience as a celebrated high school quarterback. “Matt is strong with both hands and can feed the ball and get to the corner,” said Starsia. “He is a leader, calm and cool.”
Connor English is a left-handed “pit bull” – strong and tough. “Connor may be the most explosive dodger of the group and has an uncanny knack close to the cage,” said Starsia.
Nick O’Reilly is deceptively dangerous and possesses a deft touch finding the open man. “As his confidence grew throughout the fall, more and more of his potential to make plays shined through,” said the head coach.
Matt Cockerton demonstrates a “Canadian’s touch” around the goal and could see time on the extra man. “He is a mature young man and a hard worker,” said Starsia.
While the attack may be young, the difference could be made up by one of the more balanced and explosive midfield units in recent UVa memory. 2009 captain Max Pomper returns for his fifth-year and joins 2010 captain Mikey Thompson on the defensive midfield.
“Max and Mikey both have logged a lot of important minutes throughout their careers and have blossomed into the leaders this team will need,” said Starsia.
Senior Brian Carroll has established himself as one of the top middies in the country. “A powerful athlete, one of the game’s most efficient shooters and now a captain, Brian’s significant influence on the program extends beyond the playing field,” said Starsia.
Seniors George Huguely, Kevin Carroll and faceoff specialist Brian McDermott are all “gameday experienced” and will be counted on to provide poise and leadership.
“George has been a regular on the first two units throughout his career, Kevin has stepped in to a variety of roles and Brian may have established himself as the first option at face-off during this past fall,” said Starsia.
The junior class provides explosive athleticism and depth to the team. Shamel Bratton always draws the opponent’s long stick defender and is still a catalyst at the offensive end. “Shamel is just coming into his own and already finds himself on the short list of the nation’s top players,” said Starsia. “If he continues to improve, look out.”
John Haldy and Rhamel Bratton have inserted themselves in to the mix for playing time on the top midfield unit. Both are two of the program’s strongest athletes and make plays all over the field.
“John’s strength and Rhamel’s quickness present match-up problems for opposing defenses,” said the head coach. “We will be mixing and matching these two as the season unfolds.”
Colin Briggs quietly progressed throughout this past fall and had his best day at the fall’s final scrimmages in Annapolis. “Colin has a veteran’s instincts and toughness at both ends of the field and has begun to decide that he will be reckoned with in the spring,” said Starsia. “It could happen in an unexpected way.”
Garrett Ince also had his best stretch of lacrosse this past fall and has begun to extend his influence beyond the face-off circle. “His continued development is a key component for this team,” said Starsia.
Chris Clements spent the fall recovering from ACL surgery and his status for the spring is still to be determined. Clements has played most of his career on one good leg and is still one of the program’s top players.
Sophomore Matt Kugler had a solid fall after switching from attack to midfield. Classmates Brian Pomper, Ryan Benincasa and Brian McLinden are all working hard to establish themselves.
There is a young man in the freshmen class who has already made an indelible impression on everyone associated with the program. Chris LaPierre is a “freight train” of an athlete who leaves his mark all over the field. “It is as much about Chris’ determination and confidence as it is with physical talent,” said Starsia. “Our opponents will find that he needs to be accounted for.”
Blake Riley also stepped forward as the fall progressed. “Blake plays with the throttle wide open and will acquire the poise that accompanies experience,” said Starsia.
Jacob Ghitleman was hurt most of this past fall but did exhibit some dynamic offensive skills. There is a possibility he may redshirt this spring.
Seniors Ken Clausen and Ryan Nizolek lead the defense. “Ken returns for his fourth year in the starting line-up as a captain and one of the most dynamic and recognized defenseman in the country,” said Starsia. “Ken’s uncanny knack in loose-ball play and his ability to make plays in the middle of field allows us to move him around in different situations.
“Ryan was held out of fall lacrosse while recuperating from knee surgery,” said Starsia. “He is close to full speed and anxious to get back involved. Ryan is a powerful athlete with a sophisticated stick and the experience to cover the nation’s top attackmen.”
Transfer Todd Faiella, a fifth-year senior, is a long stick middie still recovering from Achilles surgery during his final season as a captain at Brown.
Juniors Bray Malphrus and Matt Lovejoy will both play significant roles. Bray returns as the team’s top long stick middie and could see some time on the close defense. “Bray is an intense, focused athlete determined to be a leader on and off the field,” said Starsia. “His overall effort sets a high bar for the entire team.
“Matt is also one of the team’s hardest workers and really came on throughout the fall,” said Starsia. “He missed the 2009 season with an ankle injury and his confidence grew with each passing day. His stickwork and communication skills stand out.”
The sophomore class is working hard to establish itself. Peter Borror is poised and smart and capable of playing out top and behind. Wyatt Melzer’s strong fundamentals and speed make him a natural in the middle of the field and coming off the wing. Jarrid Puzes is strong, fast and best suited for the close defense.
Freshman Harry Prevas was one of the surprises of the fall. “Harry’s unassuming persona belies an intensity and poise uncommon for a young defenseman,” said Starsia. “He was in the middle of the mix throughout the fall and will play early in the season.”
Classmate Chris Landon is fast, quick and tough. He is likely a long stick middie and faceoff wing. Freshman Howie Long has the tools to excel. “He is working to coordinate effort and potential,” said Starsia.
“One of the joys of college coaching is being witness to a young college athlete’s coming to terms with the measure of his potential,” said Starsia.
Junior Adam Ghitelman was thrust into the most challenging position in his first two years and seems poised to reap the benefits of that experience. “Adam is fully engaged, working hard and playing the best lacrosse of his career,” said Starsia. “He is ready to challenge his teammates and be the leader of the defense.”
Sophomore Rob Fortunato may have been the most improved player of the fall season. “Rob exhibited an improved maturity and toughness every day that elevated his game to a different level, and he is ready to contribute,” said Starsia.
Senior Rob Eimer is one of the program’s most popular and improved athletes over the course of his career. “Rob’s steady, positive daily approach serves as a considerable influence on his teammates,” said Starsia.
Senior walk-on Will Bolton is in the midst of his first year with the team. “Between the workouts, the running, the rigors of practice, Will’s life is quite different from just a few months ago,” said Starsia. “He has been a good addition to the team.”