By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — One team is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 nationally. The other is barely above .500 and ranked No. 12.
This is men’s lacrosse, though, and the teams in question are UVa (8-0) and Johns Hopkins (4-3). And so no one will be surprised if their 83rd meeting turns out to be a thriller.
Yes, the Cavaliers blitzed the Blue Jays 19-8 in last year’s NCAA quarterfinals, their fifth straight win in this series. Of the previous nine games in this storied rivalry, however, only one was decided by more than two goals.
“Somebody used the word ‘underdog,’ ” UVa coach Dom Starsia said before practice Thursday. “I don’t really think that there’s an underdog in this game. I mean, we were clearly the underdog in 2004 and beat them up here. So if anything, I would say that we may look like a big turkey coming over the hill with the No. 1 ranking and being undefeated right now.
“We haven’t had any trouble getting our kids’ attention going into this game. I don’t care what the record is for either one of these two teams. This is a pattern” — a slow start — “that Hopkins has experienced the past couple years. It doesn’t seem to faze them a great deal.”
Virginia’s showdown with two-time defending NCAA champion Syracuse drew 7,501 fans to Klöckner Stadium on March 7, and another huge crowd is expected Saturday. The teams meet at noon in a game that ESPN2 will televise. To the winner will go the Doyle Smith Cup, named in honor of the late Hall of Famer who contributed immensely to the lacrosse programs at each school.
Former Hopkins defenseman Matt Bocklet is expected to attend, and he may have mixed emotions Saturday. His brother Chris, a sophomore attackman, leads the Wahoos in scoring with 32 points, on 25 goals and 7 assists.
“I’m hoping he’s going to put on a little orange for us,” Chris Bocklet said with a smile.
Also in the crowd will be members of the second of the six UVa teams that have won national titles in men’s lacrosse. The first was crowned champion by the U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association in 1952; the second, in 1970.
The next year, the NCAA held its first national tournament in the sport. Until then, there had been no playoff.
“It was actually my idea to bring [the 1970 team] them back to honor them,” said Starsia, who took over at UVa after the 1992 season.
“I feel like they’ve been a little ignored [by being] immediately pre-NCAA tournament. Everybody just talks about the NCAA tournaments. So it’s nice that it happens to be 40 years and we have a really good group coming back from that team.”
That UVa team beat Hopkins 15-8 in Charlottesville. Two years later, Hopkins hammered the ‘Hoos 13-8 during the regular season. But Virginia avenged that loss in the postseason, beating Hopkins 13-12 in the NCAA title game.
Hopkins is coming off a 10-7 loss to Syracuse at Homewood Field in Baltimore. The Orange led 8-1 in the third quarter before the Blue Jays rallied.
“They showed that have the potential to come back,” Virginia defenseman Matt Lovejoy said. “They’re not gonna give up.”
Senior midfielder Brian Carroll said: “Everyone respects their program and realizes they’re a great team, and everyone’s absolutely going to get up for the game.”
The ‘Hoos are averaging 14.4 goals per game. With All-America midfielder Shamel Bratton slowed by a hamstring injury for much of the year, Starsia would not have expected such productivity. But eight Cavaliers have at least 5 goals apiece, led by Bocklet (25), who rarely got on the field in 2009.
“We haven’t struggled as much as I thought we would,” Starsia said.
This will be UVa’s third game against an opponent that’s ranked in the top 12 of the latest USILA coaches’ poll. Virginia beat No. 2 Syracuse 11-10 and No. 9 Cornell 12-4. Still to come are regular-season games with No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Maryland and No. 7 Duke.
“We’re not always going to be No. 1,” Starsia said, “and that’s what I was saying to [the players] the other day. I said, ‘There’s no pressure here. It’s March.’ We understand fully that there’s nothing been accomplished in March yet. But we’re No. 1, and that speaks to the fact that we’ve done some good things, and I don’t think we need to hide from that.
“You’re going to get everybody’s best shot. OK. So what? We get that anyway, it feels like. So I just think it’s part of the growing-up process. It’s the kind of program that we want to be, we expect to be. We may not expect to be undefeated or No. 1 in every situation, but we certainly expect to be about where we are right now. I don’t think it means a great deal, and I don’t think it bothers us a great deal.”