By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The streak puzzles Dom Starsia as much as it frustrates him.
Since the end of the 2004 season, the UVa men’s lacrosse team has gone 80-15, a winning percentage of 84.2. The Cavaliers have beaten such teams as Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Princeton, North Carolina, Georgetown and Cornell during that span. Virginia has not, however, beaten Duke.
“I’m just at a complete loss to have to explain it,” said Starsia, who has guided UVa to three NCAA championships. “I feel like there are times, especially in athletics, when people would like to put a neat bow on things. I don’t know where the bow is on this one, exactly.”
Of the Wahoo’s 15 losses since 2004, seven have been to the Blue Devils. UVa went 17-0 and won the NCAA title in 2006 but never faced its ACC nemesis that year. Duke shut down its men’s lacrosse program in late March 2006 amid allegations of rape and assault, later proved to be false, against members of the team.
“I’m going to try to believe that this is just a little bit cyclical and hope that I’ll still be alive the next time that Virginia beats Duke,” said Starsia, who hasn’t lost his sense of humor.
“We’re going to try to continue to work hard to try to make it happen. I can’t make it much complicated than that for myself, because there are just too many other things to try to figure out.”
Twice in the next week UVa will have opportunities to regain control of a series it leads 48-22. The first comes Saturday at Klöckner Stadium, where top-ranked Virginia (2-0, 11-0) meets No. 5 Duke (0-2, 10-3) at 8:30 p.m. in a game ESPNU will televise.
The teams will meet again Friday night in an ACC tournament semifinal at College Park, Md.
“I don’t think it changes it much at all,” UVa midfielder Max Pomper said of the scheduling quirk. “We have to beat them either way, and we gotta take Saturday first, and then we’ll go from there.”
None of Starsia’s current players was on the team in 2005 when Duke embarrassed Virginia 17-2 in Durham. But his seniors are 0-6 against the Devils, who beat UVa twice in each of the past three seasons. Three of those games were blowouts.
“It definitely makes it hard to sleep at night when you think we’ve never beaten Duke, and it makes it hard to sleep coming into this game as well,” Pomper, a fifth-year senior from Long Island, N.Y., said Wednesday.
“Duke’s a real strong program and they’re real athletic, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they’ve been so successful against us, because they can match us athletically.”
Indeed, Starsia said, “I think you could easily make a case that over the last three or four years, they’ve been the most talented, experienced team in the country.”
To Pomper, UVa’s biggest rival is probably Syracuse, “just because we enjoy those games so much, and I think they enjoy playing us, and it’s a fun rivalry at the same time.”
The dynamic in the Duke series is different.
“Being that I’m 0-7 against Duke, I don’t necessarily enjoy it,” Pomper said with a smile. “It’s definitely a big game on all of our calendars that we mark each year. You say, ‘Are we going to be the team that breaks the streak?’
“You question why you haven’t beaten them, because we prepare each week the same way. We prepare with a great deal of passion, and we work real hard. And at the end of the day, when you’re 0-7 versus a team, you kind of start to ask, ‘Why is this happening? Are we doing something wrong?’ “
Duke’s past three games were against Harvard, Jacksonville and Presbyterian, respectively. Of those teams, only Harvard, at No. 20, is ranked in the latest U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll.
UVa’s past three opponents? No. 15 Hopkins, No. 4 Maryland and No. 3 North Carolina. The Tar Heels were unbeaten when Virginia edged them 7-5 at the Big City Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., last weekend.
“Look at the stretch we’ve just been through,” Starsia said. “What could we do more to get ready for another game? If we just bring the same kind of effort that we’ve been bringing the last couple of weeks, we’ll just take our chances, and I’ll like my chances, frankly.”
In juniors Rhamel and Shamel Bratton and senior Brian Carroll, the ‘Hoos have perhaps the nation’s most talented midfield line. The Bratton twins and Carroll combined for 8 goals and 5 assists in a 15-6 rout of Hopkins, but Maryland and UNC made limiting the middies’ production a top priority.
In the 11-10 win over the Terps, Rhamel was held without a point, and Shamel and Carroll had only 2 goals and 1 assist between them.
Against UNC, the trio didn’t produce a single point. The focus on stopping UVa’s midfield, however, has created opportunities for other players, particularly sophomore attackmen Chris Bocklet and Steele Stanwick, who have 79 points between them this season.
“Rhamel and Shamel, they get off the bus and they’re helping us on offense,” Starsia said. “In Shamel’s case, Maryland’s best defenseman, Carolina’s best defenseman, are flying out to Shamel.
“In the Maryland game, where we were able to capitalize so obviously, there was so much of the field open for Bocklet and Stanwick, especially early in the game, and we were good enough to take advantage of it. We’ve been talking about that since January, about whether or not we were going to be good enough on the attack to take advantage of the way that teams decided to defend us in the midfield, and in that game we were.”
In the Carolina game, Starsia said, the ‘Hoos “had some chances, and then I thought we pressed to try to make some more of them. So we just have to not be impatient. If you’re going to do whatever it takes to stop that first midfield, we’re probably not going to be able to change your mind about that, other than to be more efficient scoring in some other places. So that’s what our chore is.”