By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He shoots. He scores. Nothing to it, right?
University of Virginia senior Chris Bocklet can make the act of putting a lacrosse ball in the back of the net look easy. In the storied history of the UVa men’s program, only five players have scored more goals than Bocklet: Doug Knight (165), Michael Watson (142), Matt Ward (139), Kevin Pehlke (138) and Ben Rubeor (136).
Bocklet is at 129 and counting. What makes the 6-0, 181-pound attackman’s feat especially impressive is that, unlike the legends ahead of him on the all-time list, Bocklet played little as a UVa freshman.
Knight, Watson, Ward, Pehlke and Rubeor scored 16, 17, 26, 14 and 18 goals, respectively, as first-year Cavaliers. Bocklet? He scored all of four goals in 2009.
“He’s certainly in a unique situation,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said, “with essentially having nothing as a freshman.”
Heading into the Wahoos’ game with ACC nemesis Duke, Bocklet has a team-high 28 goals. The top-ranked ‘Hoos (10-1, 2-0) host the No. 7 Blue Devils (10-3, 1-1) on Friday at Klöckner Stadium. ESPNU will televise the 6 p.m. contest.
“That reminds me of a Friday night football game, the way it’s being presented, and it’s just going to be awesome,” Bocklet said.
The Cavaliers could play as many as eight more games this year: two in the regular season, two in the ACC tournament, and four in the NCAAs. Barring a miracle, he won’t overtake Knight, but Bocklet could well end up second on UVa’s all-time list.
“He’s a very fundamental shooter,” classmate Steele Stanwick said. “Shoots the ball straight overhand and to the side pipes, and when you do that you’re going to have a lot of success. But he also is just fantastic at moving without the ball and just has a little knack for finding some spots in the defense.”
Bocklet’s athletic bloodlines are impeccable. His mother was a track star in high school. His father played lacrosse at Cortland State in New York. One of Chris’ older brothers, Mike, played at Fairfield. The other, Matt, played at Fairfield before finishing his career at Johns Hopkins. The youngest of the Bocklet children, Casey, is a freshman on the powerful women’s lax team at Northwestern.
“It’s a family of lacrosse rats, and I don’t know if they would be offended by my saying that,” Starsia said. “Everybody plays, everybody loves it, everybody thinks about it every day. So it clearly was in his blood.”
On a team that includes such big, strong, fast athletes as Rob Emery and Chris LaPierre, Bocklet stands out in other ways.
“It’s a very sophisticated skill set that he has,” Starsia said. “Guys like him and Steele and Ben Rubeor, to a certain extent, they really aren’t that much to look at, but they just have a sense of the game that separates them from their peers.
“I used to say the same thing about Doug Knight. Chris has got enough athletic ability that when you attach it to his lacrosse IQ, you have someone who sees the game and can play the game at a uniquely high level.”
Bocklet, a graduate of John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y., arrived at UVa as one of the nation’s most heralded recruits. So did another right-handed attackman, Stanwick, whom most recruiting analysts ranked No. 1 in the Class of 2008. Two of the three slots on Virginia’s starting attack were already filled, by returning starters Danny Glading and Garrett Billings, and Starsia wanted a capable left-handed shooter in the other spot.
“I wrote to both Steele and Chris in the summer before they got here,” Starsia recalled, “and said any amount of time you can spend with the stick in your left hand is going to help you and help us. By the time they got here, there was no competition between Steele’s left hand and Chris’.”
Stanwick totaled 36 goals and 22 assists in 2009 and was named the ACC’s rookie of the year. Bocklet played sparingly, but “I think he got stronger and grew up and appreciated what it took to play here during his year on the bench,” Starsia said.
Billings and Glading were seniors in 2009, but Bocklet wasn’t the only Cavalier pushing for one of those spots in 2010. Starsia’s freshmen that season included three talented attackmen: Matt White, Nick O’Reilly and Connor English.
“That was the other thing,” Bocklet said. “There were all those guys coming in. Some guy can just take the spot and he does well with it, and you never make it out there. I definitely pushed myself [in the summer of 2009].”
His work paid dividends. In fall practice, Bocklet ended the battle for one of the starting jobs almost before it started. “Clearly, by the way he was playing, Chris was just saying, ‘Go look somewhere else. This is my spot,’ ” Starsia said. “There was no question that he was going to be in the lineup.”
Bocklet made an immediate impact as a starter. As a sophomore, he led Virginia with 53 goals and added 14 assists. He made the All-NCAA Tournament team after helping the ‘Hoos advance to the semifinals, where they lost by one goal to Duke in Baltimore.
A year later, Bocklet totaled 44 goals and five assists. His streak of 35 consecutive games with at least goal ended in the NCAA final, but Bocklet didn’t mind. In the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium, Virginia held off Maryland in the championship game to capture its first NCAA title since 2006.
“That was just really amazing last year,” Bocklet said. “When you’re not here, you don’t realize how hard it is to win a championship.”
During the recruiting process, Bocklet recalled, “I was like, ‘I’m going to Virginia, and I’m probably going to win a championship. That’s why I’m going there.’ That’s something where you really just don’t realize how much work and effort go into it, and it comes down to a little bit of luck.”
There’s little luck involved when Bocklet scores. After arriving at UVa, he worked tirelessly to develop the overhand shot that has become his trademark. But he benefits, too, from playing alongside Stanwick, the college game’s premier player.
Stanwick, the Tewaaraton Award winner in 2011, has been credited with assists on 44 of Bocklet’s 129 goals.
“I think we’ve kind of built up a little chemistry throughout our time here,” Stanwick said. “He kind of knows my tendencies and I know his, and I know where he’s going to be.”
Bocklet isn’t renowned for his passing, but with eight assists he’s tied with redshirt freshman Owen Van Arsdale for fourth on the team this season. For all his production as a Cavalier, though, Bocklet has yet to be named All-ACC. He says he doesn’t feel slighted.
“To tell you the truth, there’s so many people on this team that have such important parts,” Bocklet said. “It’s nice for me, because scoring goals is a part that’s in the paper, and if you have three or four goals, then it’s considered a good game.
“But there are guys like [defensive midfielder] Bobby Hill, who makes these incredible plays where you don’t get an assist, you don’t get a goal for it. There’s so many different players like that, like [long-stick midfielder] Chris Clements, who’s always making plays. It’s nice for me, because I am in a position where they do recognize the points. But being a finisher on a team, I’m usually in a good spot.”
A sociology major, Bocklet is on track to graduate next month. Among the electives he’s taken at UVa is a dance class. Bocklet entertained his teammates — and coaches — with a video of his performance in that class.
“He’s fun to be around,” Starsia said. “He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s really blossomed here at the University. I think he’s taken advantage of a lot of the things the University has to offer.”
Bocklet said: “I’ve loved it. It stinks that it’s winding down, but this was the best place I could have gone to school.”