By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the final second ticked off the clock at the University Hall Turf Field late Saturday afternoon, the calendar turned over for the UVa men’s lacrosse team.
Welcome to Syracuse Week.
“I think the lacrosse world really looks forward to Syracuse-Virginia, and we do too,” Hall of Fame coach Dom Starsia said Saturday after his team beat 18th-ranked Stony Brook 13-8 before a capacity crowd of 1,689.
The second-ranked Cavaliers (3-0) host the top-ranked Orange (1-0) next Sunday at 1 p.m. If enough snow melts, the game will be played at Klôckner Stadium. If not, it will move to the Turf Field.
Wherever it’s played, the annual meeting between these perennial powers promises to be high-scoring and highly entertaining. At the Carrier Dome last year, UVa edged the ‘Cuse 13-12 before a crowd of 16,565.
“Playing up there last year was one of the most exciting athletic experiences I’ve ever had,” Virginia defenseman Ryan Nizolek said. “I just can’t wait to get them down here.”
The 2007 and ’08 regular-season games between UVa and Syracuse were played in Baltimore as part of the Face-off Classic. The Orange hasn’t visited Charlottesville since 2006, when the Wahoos won a 20-15 shootout at Klôckner.
In their workmanlike victory Saturday, the ‘Hoos never trailed against the Seawolves (1-1). the score was 4-3 after one quarter, 8-4 at halftime and 11-5 heading into the final period.
Sophomore attackmen Chris Bocklet and Steele Stanwick each had three goals and an assist for UVa. Equally important were the Cavaliers’ defensive effort and sophomore Ryan Benincasa’s dominance at the faceoff X.
Junior attackman Jordan McBride, who had eight goals and two assists in Stony Brook’s opener, had no points Saturday. Sophomore Matt Lovejoy blanketed McBride, and UVa’s last line of defense — goalie Adam Ghitelman — was difficult to breach.
Ghitelman, a junior, had not looked especially sharp in Virginia’s wins over Drexel and Mount St. Mary’s, but he made 13 saves Saturday.
“I thought Adam played as well maybe as he’s played since he’s been here at UVa,” Starsia said.
Without question, it was Benincasa’s finest performance as a Cavalier. In 2009, he took only 54 faceoffs — 10 fewer than Garett Ince and 278 fewer than Chad Gaudet, who was competing as a graduate student.
Gaudet’s departure left a void that Benincasa is eager to fill. Against Stony Brook, Ince and Brian McDermott between them won only 2 of 9 draws. Benincasa won 12 of 16.
“Faceoffs mean everything, especially to a team like us that wants to attack quickly,” Starsia said. “If we can win faceoffs after scoring goals, then we can really seize the momentum of a game. And the inverse is also true. When you give [a goal] up, if you have a chance to win the faceoff back, you get to slow the other team down.
“I felt like when we started to go with Benincasa, late in the second and into the third, and he started to win those faceoffs, that’s when we took control of the game.
“I felt like we could have buried them if we’d hit a couple more shots, but [Benincasa] gave us a shot, and we just kept coming at ’em, coming at ’em, coming at ’em and got enough to win the game.”
Had Gaudet, who played at Dartmouth as an undergraduate, not transferred to UVa, Benincasa’s role would have been larger in 2009.
“But to be honest, he probably would have gotten beaten up a little more as a freshman,” Starsia said. “He’s much more confident, much more fit than he was a year ago, and I think it’s made a lot of difference.”
Benincasa’s classmates include Bocklet, who was also a heralded recruit coming out of high school. Already at UVa, however, were star attackmen Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, as well as Gavin Gill, also a senior in 2009.
Stanwick won a starting job as a freshman, but Bocklet played sparingly.
“It was actually a good experience,” Bocklet said. “I learned a lot from guys like Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, and I feel like it improved me a little bit as a player, just practicing with them and watching them.”
Bocklet, who’s from New York, attended John Jay High, a school that also has lacrosse alumni in the Syracuse program.
“I’m really excited,” Bocklet said. “It’s going to be a fast-paced game. It was a lot of fun watching last year, and I can’t wait to be out there now playing [against the Orange].”
Benincasa agreed. “It doesn’t really get any bigger than that.”
Defensive midfielder Max Pomper, who took a medical redshirt in 2006, is the only player left from the UVa team that faced Syracuse at Klôckner that season.
“I thought today was definitely important heading into next week,” Pomper said. “Next week, I think, in the big scheme of things, is a week that we circle on our calendars. Syracuse Week is always an important one for Virginia lacrosse. The rivalry is kind of unmatched, and I think it was great for us to get some momentum.”