By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — So there was Dom Starsia last week, chatting with fellow Brown University alumnus Chris Berman in the lobby of an elegant Los Angeles hotel. Nearby were Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Doug Flutie, Clay Matthews, Jason Kidd and Kyrie Irving, among others.
If UVa’s longtime men’s lacrosse coach needed more evidence that he was no longer in a small college town, that scene provided it for him.
“It was just very different than anything I might have prepared for, frankly,” Starsia said Monday morning.
“ESPN takes over this luxury hotel, and they must have had a hundred security guys there. You don’t get near the place without a room key or a pass or something like that.”
The big names were in L.A. for the ESPY Awards, the annual ESPN-sponsored celebration of the most memorable moments, athletes, coaches and teams in sports over the previous year. Starsia was one of five nominees for Best Coach/Manager, along with Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun, Auburn’s Gene Chizik, the Green Bay Packers’ Mike McCarthy and the Dallas Mavericks’ Rick Carlisle, a UVa graduate.
Nominees for Best Male College Athlete, an award that went to BYU men’s basketball star Jimmer Fredette, included Cornell attackman Rob Pannell. Both Starsia and Pannell were first-time nominees.
The ESPYs experience was “very different, but it was fun to be involved,” Starsia said. “I’m flattered that we got asked to be a part of it. I think it does speak to the growth of the game overall, that ESPN thinks enough of our sport to include us in two pretty important categories. I think it was an important moment for lacrosse.
“ESPN didn’t have control over the winners in the end. That was fan voting. But they had control over who they chose to be nominees, and the fact that they included both of us in an event like this, I think, speaks to their commitment to the sport and the growth of the game overall.”
Carlisle, whose Mavs beat the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals last month, was the winner in Starsia’s group. Because Carlisle did not attend the ESPYs, however, “they didn’t show that category on TV,” Starsia said. “With probably half the categories, they just flashed the winner up on the screen.”
That didn’t bother Starsia, whose 19th season at Virginia ended on Memorial Day with his fourth NCAA title. During the nationally televised show, which Seth Meyers hosted, Starsia and his wife, Krissy Lasagna, sat about 20 rows back at the Nokia Theatre, near such ESPN figures as Mike Greenberg, Mike Golic, Kenny Mayne and Michael Wilbon.
“Nobody knew who I was, but that was fine,” Starsia said. “It was fun just to be part of the whole thing.”
Starsia and Lasagna, who had been vacationing with their family in Ocean City, Md., flew from Baltimore to Los Angeles last Tuesday. They went to a party hosted by Serena Williams that night. “We just kind of hung around on Wednesday, and then we went to the show Wednesday night,” Starsia.
Vince Briedis, UVa’s media relations director for men’s lacrosse, joined Starsia and Lasagana at the ESPY Awards.
“We hung out on the red carpet for about an hour,” Starsia said. “Not that anybody wanted to talk to us, really, but it was fun to be there.”
Overall, he said, it “was a neat experience. Kind of fantasy land a little bit. You just get a small little taste of how these guys live. For these athletes, this is what their life is like, I think: Have anything you want, people paying for things, taking care of things. I think it’s remarkable that they succeed with all those temptations in front of them all the time.”
Starsia and Lasagna flew back to the East Coast the morning after the awards show. He has a camp starting Wednesday and then another beginning Sunday, both at Graves Mountain Lodge, and then his focus will shift to his 20th team at Virginia.
The 2011-12 academic year begins Aug. 23 at the University, and fall practice will start soon after that for the Wahoos.
Virginia’s returning standouts include Steele Stanwick. The All-America attackman from Baltimore played much of his junior season with an injured right foot but still edged Pannell for the Tewaaraton Trophy, the college game’s highest honor.
“Last time I saw him was about a month ago at our camp,” Starsia said of Stanwick. “His foot was still bothering him. The problem is that he’s been going to a lot of camps and making a lot of appearances and doing things like that. And even though he hasn’t been pushing it, he’s on his feet a lot. I’m hoping he’ll get a chance to get off his feet for a month or so before we come back. And if we have to ease him into the start of the year, then that’s what we’re going to wind up doing.”
The Cavaliers’ returning players were given summer workout programs before they scattered last month, Starsia said, “but at the same time I don’t mind if they get away from it a little bit, because we push pretty hard from September to [late May], if we happen to be playing on Memorial Day weekend. And so I think there was some of that going on, and part of my e-mail yesterday was to say, ‘OK, fellas, it’s about the midpoint in the summer now. We need to start to turn around and begin to get ourselves focused as we consider the start of the school year, because it’ll be here before we know it.’ ”
Starsia is coming off a season like no other in his Hall of Fame coaching career. The Cavaliers lost four of five games in one stretch, and they were seeded No. 7 in the 16-team NCAA tournament. During the regular season, the ‘Hoos lost several key players, for various reasons, but it all came together for the team in May. Virginia (13-5) beat Bucknell, Cornell, Denver and, finally, Maryland to capture the NCAA title.
UVa became the lowest seed, as well as the first five-loss team, to win an NCAA championship in men’s lacrosse. Starsia’s previous championship teams — in 1999, 2003 and 2006 — finished 13-3, 15-2 and 17-0, respectively.
Now Starsia wants his players to openly embrace the pursuit of a second straight NCAA crown. He’s told them as much in his two e-mails to the team since the Memorial Day victory over the Terrapins in Baltimore.
“The first time was probably about two weeks after the whole thing ended,” Starsia said. “The message simply was that I’ve read, and I think we’re all aware of, how hard it is to repeat. I hear people talk about, ‘I don’t want to use that language,’ or, ‘We’re not defending the national championship or anything like that.’
“What I told the guys was, ‘Let’s take a little different approach here. Let’s just have some fun with this. Let’s attack this with a smile on our face and just get to work on it. We’re the only team that can repeat, and so let’s just get after it and have some fun doing it, and not dread it.’ ”
In addition to Stanwick, players such as Chris Bocklet, Chris LaPierre, Matt Lovejoy, Matt White, Rob Emery, Scott McWilliams, Colin Briggs, Chris Clements and Nick O’Reilly return for the ‘Hoos.
“I’ll be honest, and I mentioned to them in the e-mail yesterday, I’m looking forward to starting again,” Starsia said. “Sometimes in the past, you wanted the offseason to extend forever. I’m anxious to see how we react to everything. I’m ready to get back to practice myself and get back to it, and I bet the players are too. I think it’s going to be a very interesting year. I like the people we have coming back, and I think it’ll be some fun getting ready for this.”