June 17, 2010
CHARLOTTESVILLE — At various times this spring, UVa was ranked No. 1 nationally in men’s tennis, women’s rowing, baseball and men’s lacrosse.
Of those teams, only rowing ended its season as NCAA champion. Virginia advanced to the final four in men’s lacrosse and men’s tennis and fell one victory shy of the College World Series in baseball.
“From the outside looking in, there’s just no way you can fathom how hard it is to win [an NCAA title],” Dom Starsia told me recently, “and what a precious opportunity it is, and all the things that have to go right in order for it to happen.”
In Starsia’s 18 seasons at UVa, his teams have won three NCAA men’s lacrosse championships: in 1999, 2003 and 2006. Before coming to Virginia, Starsia coached for 10 seasons at his alma mater, Brown, where he fielded successful teams but never won an NCAA title.
“It’s agonizing,” said Starsia, who empathizes with colleagues at UVa, especially men’s tennis coach Brian Boland and baseball coach Brian O’Connor, each of whom is seeking his first NCAA championship.
George Gelnovatch and Kevin Sauer reached the peak this school year. In 2009, his 14th season as men’s soccer coach at UVa, Gelnovatch won his first NCAA title.
About six months later, Sauer capped his 15th season as the Cavaliers’ rowing coach with his first NCAA crown.
“People just need to understand, it’s the body of work that speaks to the quality of effort overall,” Starsia told host Jay James on the Best Seat in the House radio show Monday.
“Our baseball team probably had their greatest season ever, and our team, we finished 16-2, and we had 10 games against the seeded teams in the [NCAA tournament] field.
“I thought we played well throughout the season. I thought we got consisently better. We were playing some of our best lacrosse in late April and May. That’s all you could hope for. And then you just want to make one more play in one of those critical games, and it was Duke that made the final play [in the NCAA semifinals].
“It doesn’t make it easier, but I think at least I can look back at it — and I talked to my team about this — and appreciate the fact that we worked really hard and accomplished something. You don’t want the seniors to walk away feeling like somehow they had fallen down on the job.”
With a second straight berth in the College World Series at stake, UVa’s baseball team ended its season Monday night with an 11-0 loss to Oklahoma at Davenport Field.
“It just happens in sports,” Starsia told James. “That’s the way it is.
“What it does is, it helps me realize how fortunate we are and how blessed we are that we’ve got a couple national championships under our belt and the fact that we have been sort of in that territory the last couple years.”
Boland’s tennis team has consistently ranked among the nation’s best, too, and the Cavaliers have won the past three ITA indoor national championships.
“They’re going to break through [in the NCAA tournament],” Starsia said. “They’re going to get there.”
Starsia, who turned 58 in April, is already looking ahead to his 19th season at UVa.
“I would tell that I’m surprised at how excited I am about getting started again,” Starsia told James. “I wish I could sleep easier. I wake up in the mornings and I’m trying to imagine who’s playing defense for us and things, trying to figure out how we’re going to cover North Carolina next year.”
“People have begun to ask how much longer I’m going to do this,” Starsia said, “and as long as I continue to wake up in the morning worrying about North Carolina, then I’ll probably continue to stay in coaching.”
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The final standings for the Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup competition won’t be released until July 1, but UVa appears headed to a third-place finish.
That would be Virginia’s best effort, by far. UVa has twice finished eighth in the all-sports competition, most recently in 2008-09.
The next Directors’ Cup update, to be released Wednesday, will include points earned in women’s rowing, men’s golf, softball, men’s track and field, and women’s track and field.
The Directors’ Cup reflects schools’ performances in NCAA championships.
Virginia finished first in rowing, in a tie for 11th in men’s golf and 23rd in men’s track and field.
In softball, UVa advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time before being eliminated in its regional. In baseball, the last sport that will be figured in, Virginia advanced to a super regional.
Stanford will win the Directors’ Cup race for the 16th time, and Florida is expected to place second.