By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Julie Myers’ lacrosse team has been wildly inconsistent this season — sometimes in the same game — but UVa still knows how to torment Virginia Tech.
In the 17th meeting between these schools in women’s lacrosse, Virginia improved its record in the series to 17-0. Unlike most of the previous 16 games, however, this was no blowout.
The Cavaliers, whose average margin of victory over the Hokies was 11.6 goals coming into their ACC game, held on for a 12-10 victory Wednesday night before a crowd of 1,131 at Klöckner Stadium.
Never before had the Wahoos beaten the Hokies by fewer than six goals, and for much of the game Wednesday night, another rout appeared to be unfolding.
Junior attacker Charlie Finnigan scored as time expired in the first half to send UVa to the locker room with a 9-2 lead. The score was 12-5 after another junior attacker, Julie Gardner, scored with 17:26 remaining, and there was no reason to believe the ‘Hoos would suffer through any anxious moments on this cool spring night.
Suddenly, though, Virginia (1-4, 8-5) began breaking down defensively, and the Hokies (1-3, 8-6) began capitalizing.
“I think we felt really comfortable and confident when we had the ball and we were scoring when we needed to,” Myers said. “Then, of course, [Tech] went on a stretch of winning all the draw controls and really making some big plays.”
It was 12-10 when, with 1:50 left, Tech attacker Caitlyn Wier fired a low shot at UVa goalie Kim Kolarik. Had Wier scored, who knows what drama might have followed? But Kolarik, a sophomore from Riva, Md., made her seventh and final save of the evening, and the ‘Hoos were able to play keepaway and run out the clock.
“We needed a turnaround,” Kolarik said. “They were coming back, inch by inch, and we just needed something big to happen. As [Wier] was coming down, they’d scored a couple low on me, and I just knew it was going there.”
This was the Cavaliers’ final ACC game of the regular season, so they were in danger of finishing winless in league play for the first time since 2001.
“I think for so many reasons, tonight was a huge game,” Myers said. “I think Virginia Tech is a much-improved team. They’re certainly worthy of a good ranking. I think that they’re really good. But obviously to get our eighth win and to get an ACC win and to beat Virginia Tech in-state, for a lot of reasons it was the perfect game for us to come out on top in.”
Three days earlier, Virginia had squandered a comfortable lead against Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. The Cavaliers led 15-9 in the second half, only to see the Crimson come back to tie the game at 17-17. UVa finally prevailed, 19-18, but some of the same problems arose against Virginia Tech.
“It’s disappointing to see that we kept making the same mistake over and over in transition defensively,” Myers said Wednesday night, “but I think there are things we can certainly work on in practice and clean it up here going down the stretch.”
Myers is in her 16th season as head coach at her alma mater, where her record is 240-84, with one NCAA title and six NCAA runner-up finishes.
Under Myers, the Cavaliers have made 15 trips to the NCAA tournament. Her 16th team does not want to end that streak, and UVa’s players knew the game with Virginia Tech had postseason implications.
“We were talking, a few teammates, about that the other day, and it definitely is in the back of our minds,” Gardner said, “but we’ve just got to keep playing positive and keep pumping each other up and supporting each other on the field. I think that in this game we did a really good job of that. The defense talked to the offense after our goals, and the offense talked to the defense after Virginia Tech scored, and we’re really coming together well as a team when we’re in some adversity.”
Myers said: “I think everybody had each other’s back through the course of the night. When the ball was on the ground, we seemed to go in pairs and seemed to come up with it, probably better in the first half than we did in the second half. But even when we were in our delay, when I think we tried to pass the ball in to Josie Owen, and Josie misses it, Annie Thomas comes up with it. So I think we did a nice job with our teamwork and our toughness and getting each other’s backs when mistakes did happen.”
This is a group that’s probably a year away from peaking. The Cavaliers start two freshmen, three sophomores, five juniors and only two seniors.
Moreover, three starters — juniors Owen, Ainsley Baker and Bailey Fogarty — missed fall practice while recovering from torn ACLs, and another starter, freshman Lauren Goerz, transferred to UVa from Cal after the fall semester.
So the Cavaliers have been playing “a little bit of catch-up” all season, Myers acknowledged recently in her McCue Center office. The season started with a humbling loss in Baltimore, where UVa fell 15-8 to Loyola. Eight days later, however, Virginia romped 21-11 at Syracuse.
“I think our highs are what we had expected,” Myers said, “and our lows, probably, too, for that matter. But I don’t we expected within a 60-minute game we could see both ends. I thought we’d be a little bit more consistent by our eighth, ninth game into the season.”
This season has “definitely been different,” Myers said. “We’ve never had three ACLs; we’ve never had a midyear transfer. But this is a really fun team to work with. Even after a loss, we go up to the field, and it just feels right to be back on the field with them.”
Finnigan led the Hokies with 4 goals and 3 assists against the Hokies, and Gardner contributed 3 goals and an assist.
Myers saw no need to mention to her players that UVa had never lost to Tech, but they didn’t need extra motivation Wednesday.
“We knew it was an important game either way,” Gardner said. “And we haven’t had a great win at home for a while, so we were really focusing in practice and just trying to get some confidence back.”
The ‘Hoos have won three of their past four games. As they look to further polish their NCAA tournament résumé, every game is crucial, starting next Wednesday night against George Mason in Fairfax. Then comes the ACC tournament in Cary, N.C. Virginia plays Nov. 27 at JMU and then closes the regular season three days later against second-ranked Northwestern at Klöckner.
“Obviously you do need to get those wins so that you can go ahead and make this run and poise yourself for postseason,” Myers said. “But I think right now with this team, as young as we are, and inexperienced, we’re really trying to focus on: What are we going to do in practice tomorrow?
“So we’re trying to take it day by day, step by step, and hopefully that’s going to serve us well down the stretch.”