April 26, 2010

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A lot has happened in the past seven years, and not everyone still remembers what they did or where they were on Memorial Day weekend in 2003.

Adam Ghitelman may never forget. He watched spellbound as goalie Tillman Johnson, at the final four in Baltimore, turned in two of the most electrifying performances in the history of NCAA men’s lacrosse.

“I was there,” Ghitelman said Sunday, smiling. “That’s what made me want to play goalie at UVa, I tell you that much. That was what settled it for me. That’s what I aspire to be.”

Johnson was named most outstanding player in 2003 after leading UVa to its third NCAA title. Ghitelman has yet to ascend to such heights, but it’s not far-fetched to think he might do so next month.

The 5-9 junior from the Long Island town of Syosset, N.Y., showed at the ACC tournament why he was considered the No. 1 goalie in the Class of 2007 coming out of Cold Spring Harbor High.

Ghitelman made 12 saves Friday night as Virginia beat Duke 16-12 and ended an eight-game losing streak in that series.

Two days later, on his 21st birthday, he shined even brighter. Ghitelman finished with 16 saves, many of them spectacular, as top-seeded UVa whipped Maryland 10-6 to secure its first ACC title since 2006.

The conference title was the seventh by a UVa team in 2009-10. Virginia previously had won in men’s soccer, men’s swimming, women’s swimming, wrestling, women’s rowing and, earlier Sunday, men’s tennis. The seven ACC championships in the same academic year are the most ever for one school since the conference expanded to 12 members.

Ghitelman was named the tournament’s MVP, a fitting reward for what UVa coach Dom Starsia agreed was a Tillman-esque display of goalkeeping at Maryland’s Byrd Stadium.

“Absolutely,” Starsia said.

As a freshman in 2008, Ghitelman started the Cavaliers’ first 10 games but eventually lost the job to fifth-year senior Bud Petit. Ghitelman was back on the first team in 2009 and had many fine moments, as Syracuse, Maryland, North Carolina and Johns Hopkins will attest, but inconsistency remained an issue for him into his junior year.

“You can talk about it all you want, you can have a nice day in practice, but genuine confidence comes from actually doing things,” Starsia said.

“What he hadn’t really done was perform on the big stage. He has been very good in practice. He’s the kind of kid you love to be around, but he hasn’t had the satisfaction or the recognition for an effort like this, for a performance like this. You like to see him get it, because he works his tail off.”

Against fourth-ranked Duke, the Wahoos fell behind 4-0 before rallying. Against fifth-ranked Maryland, they trailed 3-0 before senior midfielder Brian Carroll broke through with 6:49 left in the first quarter.

Top-seeded Virginia (13-1) didn’t panic Friday night, and it remained poised after the Terrapins’ fast start.

“After those three quick goals, we got together as a defense and were like, ‘We’ve been here before. We were here two days ago,’ ” Ghitelman said.

The ‘Hoos steadily gained control of a game whose pace, at first, was not to their liking. Freshman attackman Matt White made it 3-2 late in the first quarter, and then junior midfielder Rhamel Bratton scored in transition to pull UVa to 3-3 with 9:07 left in the opening half.

The ball ended up in Bratton’s stick moments after a brilliant save at the other end by Ghitelman, who stopped a behind-the-back shot at point-blank range.

Until then, the game generally had been a plodding affair, as Starsia put it, and the Cavaliers prefer a faster tempo. A textbook outlet pass from Ghitelman to senior middie Mikey Thompson led to their first lead. Thompson scored on a fast break with 2:02 left in the second quarter to make it 4-3.

“You got a guy like Mikey Thompson, with the jets he has, he’s such a mismatch coming down the field full speed,” Ghitelman said.

At the half, UVa led 5-4. The Terps (9-3) pulled even early in the third, on an unassisted goal by Grant Catalino. But the ‘Hoos answered with five goals over the next 17 minutes, a stretch of superiority that sent many Maryland fans home early.

Catalino, an attackman who leads the Terps in scoring, overpowers most defenders with his size and strength. The 6-5, 225-pound junior scored six goals in Maryland’s semifinal rout of North Carolina, but Sunday, for the second time this season, UVa defenseman Matt Lovejoy limited Catalino’s impact.

In Virginia’s 11-10 regular-season victory over Maryland at Byrd Stadium, Catalino was held without a point, in large part because of Lovejoy’s defense. Catalino had a goal and an assist Sunday in another quiet performance.

Lovejoy, a reserve as a freshman in 2008, redshirted last season while recovering from ankle surgery. He took over for the departed Matt Kelly on UVa’s close defense, which has generally been superb this season.

“We just sort of have the right pieces,” Starsia said. “The addition of Lovejoy to the defense has helped us. His attention to detail is very good.”

Each team was missing a key player Sunday. Maryland attackman Will Yeatman, a 6-6, 250-pound senior, suffered a mild concussion Friday night and wasn’t cleared to play in the championship game.

For Virginia, Brian McDermott, who won 17 of 19 faceoffs against Duke, was held out because of a shoulder injury. His replacement, Garett Ince, acquitted himself well, winning 9 of 16 draws.

“Gotta give credit to Garett Ince,” Ghitelman said. “Having possession for us is the greatest defense we could have. When those guys have the ball, we’re not playing defense and they’re not scoring.”

For the second straight game, UVa’s first midfield dominated. Rhamel Bratton had 2 goals and an assist, and his twin, Shamel, contributed one of each. The third starting middie, Carroll, scored 2 goals.

“We’ve been playing well all year, aside from maybe one or two games, and our team really clicks when Brian, Shamel and I can get the offense going,” Rhamel said.

The Brattons were named to the all-tournament team, as were Ghitelman, McDermott, defenseman Ken Clausen and attackmen White and Steele Stanwick from UVa.

Clausen is part of a senior class that hopes to avoid becoming the first since 1998 to leave UVa without winning at least one NCAA championship.

“We’ve put in the work from Day One,” Clausen said. “We’ve had a lot of good leaders in this class, and a lot of guys on the team all-around have stepped up.

“And so to come out and beat Duke in the semifinal game and then come back and play a very talented, very tough Maryland team on their home field, that means a lot to us, and as seniors I think we’re all very proud of this. But by no means is our work done.”

UVa, which closes the regular season Saturday against Robert Morris at Klöckner Stadium, is a virtual lock to be seeded No. 1 in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.

Each of the other three ACC teams is also capable of reaching the final four, which makes the Cavaliers’ accomplishment in College Park that much more impressive.

“And the fact that we were able to do this, turn around in 48 hours and [win again], hopefully we can draw on this experience if we are fortunate to get through to the final weekend [of the NCAAs],” Starsia said.

In the fourth quarter Sunday, Maryland outshot Virginia 12-3. Only one of the Terps’ shots beat Ghitelman, and that was with 11 seconds left.

“You fully expect a team like Maryland to make a run at you,” Starsia said. “They just couldn’t get one by him. I was just shaking my head at one point. I’d like to take some credit for it as a coach, but I really can’t.”

The birthday boy did interview after interview after the awards ceremony. At one point, Ghitelman was asked what he would do to celebrate his 21st.

“Nothing,” he said, smiling broadly. “Soda and chips tonight for me.”


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