By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the selection committee for the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament convenes next month, UVa will not have to apologize for its résumé.
The Cavaliers’ record will be no worse than 8-6, and it could be 11-4. Virginia will have faced such opponents as Syracuse, Cornell, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina, Duke, Stony Brook and Penn, all of which are ranked among the top 14 teams in the latest USILA coaches’ poll.
UVa coach Dom Starsia said he expects the committee to look favorably on his team, regardless of what happens between now and the end of the regular season.
“When you look at the body of work and the quality of the schedule overall, I think we’re in a pretty good position,” Starsia said.
Which means we’re likely to see Virginia in the NCAAs for the seventh consecutive season. For the Wahoos, though, simply making the 16-team field isn’t enough. They’ve won three NCAA titles under Starsia, the most recent in 2006, and entered this year fully expecting to contend for a fourth.
The Cavaliers began the season ranked No. 1 in the USILA poll. They’re now ranked No. 10. Since beating Ohio State on March 19, UVa has won only once.
“We’ve lost three of the last four, and that’s not something that’s getting by anyone at this point,” said senior goalie Adam Ghitelman, one of the Cavaliers’ captains. “We all know that we haven’t been playing our best lacrosse at this point of the season.”
Virginia has an opportunity to reverse that trend in Durham, N.C., this weekend. It’s ACC tournament time, and fourth-seeded UVa (8-4) meets top-seeded Duke (10-4) in the 7:30 p.m. semifinal Friday at the Blue Devils’ Koskinen Stadium.
That was also the site of the teams’ regular-season meeting. Duke won that game 13-11 last Saturday, its 10th victory in the series’ past 11 games. During that span, UVa has dominated its series with Hopkins, Syracuse, Maryland and UNC.
“It just doesn’t make any sense, really, but at the same time I’m not going to deny the recent record [against Duke],” Starsia said.
“When we got here in the beginning, we went five or six years before we won a championship, and people said Virginia could never do it. These things have a tendency to get themselves turned around in sports. I won’t deny that Duke seems to have won a disproportionate number of games against us in recent years. We just gotta keep working at it. I don’t think there’s anything supernatural about it. They’re a good lacrosse team. We seem to bring out their best. We just gotta play better.”
A year ago in College Park, UVa beat Duke in the semifinals and then whipped Maryland to capture the ACC tournament. The Blue Devils avenged that loss in the NCAA semifinals, edging the Cavaliers 14-13 in Baltimore.
“It definitely crosses your mind about how they’ve had the upper hand on us in the past few years,” said Ghitelman, the MVP of last year’s ACC tournament. “But again, it’s the game of lacrosse, and whoever shows up on that day when the game’s being played and plays the best is going to win. That’s clearly been the case this whole year across the nation.”
“I think the country is unsettled, and I’d put the ACC in that category,” he said. “But I think all the top teams are unsettled … I think there’s 10 teams right now that probably think to themselves, ‘Hey, we got a shot at this,’ and I don’t think there’s ever been that situation before.
“I think all four of the ACC teams are strong teams, legitimate contenders. I don’t think any one of us has kind of grabbed the bull completely by the horns yet, but I would say the same about most of the teams in the country right now. I think for fans of the sport, it’s probably a healthy development. For the head coach at the University of Virginia, I wish there were just a simpler road for us.”
The ‘Hoos hope to have junior attackman Steele Stanwick back in the lineup Friday night. Stanwick missed last weekend’s game against Duke with a calf injury that he sustained April 9 while scoring the winning goal in overtime against North Carolina.
Stanwick, who averages a conference-best four points per game, was named ACC player of the year on Thursday. Also named to the all-ACC team from UVa were junior Colin Briggs and sophomore Chris LaPierre, midfielders who combined for six goals against Duke last weekend. Without Stanwick, though, Virginia’s attack often sputtered.
“It’s tough not having a guy like Steele,” Ghitelman said. “He’s arguably the best player in the country, and if you ask any team to play without its best player, it’s going to take a toll … We’ll be glad to have him back. He’s our quarterback, and you never want to play without your No. 1 quarterback.”
The start of the NCAA tournament is less than a month away, and UVa will play no more than three games before then.
“The time is now,” Ghitelman said. “We need to start playing our best lacrosse right now. But I’d have to say to you that it’s really not how you perform in March and April; it’s how you perform in May, and we want to be a team that continues to get better in the next coming weeks … We’re still waiting for that [breakout] game. I think it’s ahead of us, and I’m as optimistic as anyone about this weekend.”