By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With 17.9 seconds left and the outcome long since decided, UVa men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia called a timeout at Klöckner Stadium.
Starsia wasn’t upset that Virginia’s ACC nemesis — Duke — had opted to take one final shot and score one final goal Friday night, even if that decision by attackman Christian Walsh appeared to irritate the Blue Devils’ coach, John Danowski.
“I wanted the end of that game to sink in a little bit, that’s all,” Starsia said. “I don’t blame the Duke kid. I got no issues with that. But at the same time, sometimes things disperse a little quickly at the end of the game, and I wanted to tell our guys that this was completely unacceptable tonight, and I just wanted to have a moment to be able to make that point.”
The scoreboard helped Starsia drive his message home: Duke 13, Virginia 5.
A season-high crowd of 7,234 had turned out on a sparkling spring evening to see the top-ranked Cavaliers host seventh-ranked Duke, the source of so much misery for Starsia’s program in recent years. Most fans went home unhappy.
The defeat was the Wahoos’ worst since last April, when they lost 19-10 to Duke in an ACC tournament semifinal. Not since a 16-5 loss to Duke — who else? — in April 2009 have the ‘Hoos scored so few goals in a game.
The Blue Devils “really challenged us on the perimeter athletically, probably more so than we have been,” said UVa senior Steele Stanwick, an All-America attackman. “I don’t think we really got going until the fourth quarter there. So credit to them, but we gotta play like big boys for four quarters.”
Starsia said the Devils “are sort of uniquely athletic at the defensive end of the field, and they can put that kind of pressure on you. I kept saying to the guys on offense, ‘Just keep working. We’re going to wear them down.’ And that’s what we needed to do, and we just didn’t have that gear tonight. We weren’t prepared to play as tough as those guys and play as hard as those guys were prepared to play against us tonight, and that was the story at the end of the day.”
The victory was Duke’s 12th in the teams’ past 13 meetings. During that stretch, the Devils have outscored the ‘Hoos 181-114.
“I still can’t put my finger on it,” UVa long-stick midfielder Chris Clements said of the Devils’ dominance.
“They hustle all over the field and get us in the middle of the field with ground balls. I think we played a little bit timid tonight, and we gotta come out of our shell a little bit. We missed a couple shots, and we got a little frantic. On defense we were sliding out of control, maybe not as organized as we should be.”
A rematch could come in next month’s NCAA tournament — or as early as next weekend. Klöckner is the site of the ACC tournament, and top-seeded Duke (11-3, 2-1) meets No. 4 seed Maryland (6-3, 1-2) at 5 p.m. Friday. No. 2 seed Virginia (10-2, 2-1) and No. 3 seed North Carolina (8-4, 1-2) will follow at 7:30 p.m.
The semifinal winners will meet for the ACC title on Sunday, April 22.
“We’d love to have another shot at [Duke],” said Clements, one of 11 seniors honored before UVa’s final regular-season home game.
The ‘Hoos never led Friday night and were tied only once, at 1-1. At halftime, though, Duke’s lead was 4-2, and “I felt very much like we were in the game,” Starsia said.
In the third quarter, though, the Devils outscored the Cavaliers 5-0, and fans started streaming toward the exits.
“We just weren’t prepared to do the things that we needed to do in order to win this game,” Starsia said. “We weren’t prepared to match the effort of that team on the other side, and give them credit for that. I got no quarrel with my kids. We have practiced hard, we’ve played hard, we’ve been through a tough part of the schedule. At the same time this was unacceptable tonight for us across the board.”
Stanwick led UVa with a goal and two assists, and midfielder Colin Briggs had one of each. A third Virginia senior, goalie Rob Fortunato, matched his career high with 16 saves.
Overall, though, Duke prevailed in almost every phase of the game. The teams ended up tied on faceoffs, with eight wins apiece, but that stat was misleading. On several draws that Virginia won, Duke almost immediately forced a turnover.
“It didn’t seem like we got the ball much in that third quarter,” Starsia said. “Certainly the faceoffs were a part of that. When you’re trying to climb back in a game, faceoffs become a little more critical. They’re very good in the middle of the field. I would say that that’s their strength overall, loose-ball play around the midline, and they’ve been able to take advantage of us over these past few years, and hopefully we’ll use this experience tonight to get smarter and a little tougher if we should earn our way back to another opportunity to play these guys again.”
The Cavaliers showed in 2011 that they could lose twice to Duke in a season and still win the NCAA title. So UVa’s performance Friday night, however woeful it may have been, won’t necessarily mean much next month.
“This doesn’t change our goals, obviously,” Starsia said. “But at the same time we’re a group of men trying to be a really good lacrosse team, and we got [whipped] tonight, and we gotta take enough pride in what we’re doing that we learn some lessons here and make a better show the next time around.”
Fortunato said: “We just gotta learn from this and get better from this.”