By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In 2009, Shamel Bratton was a first-team All-American in men’s lacrosse, and another UVa midfielder, Brian Carroll, was a third-team selection.
Neither was named to the all-ACC team announced this week, and not because they lacked the support of their coach, Dom Starsia, or because the second-ranked Cavaliers were having a down year. The league’s head coaches also snubbed the third starter on Virginia’s No. 1 midfield, Shamel’s twin brother, Rhamel.
Which begs the question: Did the Wahoos’ middies carry extra motivation with them to College Park, Md., for the ACC tournament?
“They probably wouldn’t tell you, but I’d say they probably did,” sophomore attackman Steele Stanwick said Saturday. “I think they handled it great. They went out and proved why they should have been selected.”
Indeed, the Brattons and Carroll dazzled in top-seeded UVa’s 16-12 win over fourth-seeded Duke in the first ACC semifinal Friday night at Byrd Stadium.
Shamel had 3 goals and 2 assists; Rhamel, 2 and 1; Carroll, 1 and 1.
They weren’t the only heroes for the ‘Hoos, who beat the Blue Devils for the first time since 2004. Faceoff specialist Brian McDermott won 17 of 19 draws, goalie Adam Ghitelman made 12 saves and, in the game’s most memorable play, scored a goal from 60 yards out, and attackmen Stanwick, Chris Bocklet and Matt White combined for 7 goals.
Until Friday night, no player on UVa’s roster had experienced a win over Duke, and Dom Starsia and his top assistant, Marc Van Arsdale, had been on the sideline for each game in the losing streak.
“You could tell that the seniors and the juniors really wanted this one,” Stanwick said. “Last night, the game was for them and Coach Starsia and Coach Van. To see the joy on their faces was great.”
Virginia (12-1) meets third-seeded Maryland (9-2) for the ACC title at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Byrd Stadium. That’s the same field on which the ‘Hoos edged the Terrapins 11-10 on April 3.
The Cavaliers’ focus Saturday was on preparing for the fifth-ranked Terps. The win over Duke, however, won’t be soon forgotten.
Starsia recalled Saturday morning that the “first words out of my mouth in the huddle after the game were, ‘We came here to win a championship.’ But at the same time, anybody would be brain dead if they didn’t think that there was a little special kick winning this game and to think that we weren’t going to enjoy the fact that it happened for a little bit.
“Our job is now, absolutely, to turn around and get ready to play again. But there was a little something extra in the air. I don’t think there’s any question about that.”
In a streak that eventually reached eight games, Duke’s first win over UVa was a 17-2 rout in April 2005. Several of the Devils’ subsequent victories in the series were one-sided too — remember the 19-9 romp in ’08 or the 16-5 thrashing in ’09? — and for awhile Friday night it seemed another blowout might be unfolding.
Late in the first quarter, Duke led 4-0, and Virginia appeared stunned.
“It was definitely tough,” Stanwick said, “especially with a team you’ve never beaten before.”
Starsia said: “We’re all kind of crazy, and you’re standing on the sideline thinking to yourself, ‘Boy, I hope we score a goal tonight.’ ”
White, a freshman, finally broke through for UVa, scoring off a pass from Carroll to make it 4-1 with 4:45 left in the first quarter. Then came a goal from McDermott — only the second of his college career — off freshman midfielder Chris LaPierre’s feed, and suddenly the Cavaliers had new life.
“The Brian McDermott goal was a huge momentum boost,” said Stanwick, one of two Cavaliers (along with senior defenseman Ken Clausen) named to the all-ACC team.
In several games this season, Virginia has bolted to an early lead, only to see its opponent fight back.
In the Cavaliers’ 13-9 loss to Duke at Klöckner Stadium last weekend, in fact, Starsia’s team had scored the first three goals. In Virginia’s regular-season win in College Park, the Terps fell behind 6-0 and still managed to make the final minutes dramatic.
So after the Blue Devils seized control early Friday night, Starsia called a timeout and gave his charges a history lesson.
“What I said was, ‘We’ve been in this situation before. We’ve been on the other side of this situation before,’ ” Starsia recalled. “I actually used that to our advantage a little bit, I think, and thankfully it didn’t get any further away from us.
“Had it gotten to six or seven or something like that, it possibly becomes too steep. Once we got to 4-2, I thought, ‘At least it’s a lacrosse game.’ ”
One more game remains in this tournament, and it’s an opportunity for UVa to win its first ACC title since 2006. The ‘Hoos also won the NCAA championship that season — their third under Starsia — and have yet to return to that stage.
UVa’s ultimate goal every season is the NCAA crown, but the ACC championship is important, too.
“I don’t think it means nearly as much to the outside lacrosse world as it does to the conference people, and that includes us,” Starsia said. “The programs that are in the conference, we know how tough these games are. We know how tough it is to win.
“Again, in the outside world it’ll be forgotten relatively quickly, but I think [an ACC title is] a significant notch in our world, and it’s something I think the seniors especially would love to have.”
In the second semifinal Friday night, junior attackman Grant Catalino scored a career-best 6 goals to lead Maryland to a 13-5 rout of second-seeded North Carolina.
“It was an impressive performance by the Terps, no question,” Starsia said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen them play better during the course of the year.
“I thought that Maryland played probaby the way that they always hoped that they would look as a team. Which is that they played really tough, really beat North Carolina up.”
The Terps revel in their physicality and enjoy painting the Cavaliers as a white-collar group with more skill and athleticism but less grit.
Nobody who saw the ‘Hoos fight back against a supremely talented Duke squad is likely to question their toughness or resilience.
The Terrapins “like to pride themselves on being that blue-collar team, but I would definitely argue that we were a blue-collar team yesterday,” Stanwick said.