By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Twice this season fans have packed Klöckner Stadium for UVa men’s lacrosse games. Both times Virginia supporters went home disappointed. Dom Starsia and his players hope to write happier endings this weekend.
“We didn’t play our best in the Hopkins and Duke games,” said Starsia, the Cavaliers’ Hall of Fame coach. “It’d be nice to put on a show for our local fans. They’ve been very supportive. We have enough motivation to turn around and get after this one.”
Defending NCAA champion UVa has lost only twice this season: 11-10 in overtime to Johns Hopkins and 13-5 to Duke. The first defeat, on March 24, drew 6,899 fans to Klöckner; the second, last Friday night, drew 7,234.
Overall, the fourth-ranked Wahoos are 4-2 at home this season, and they’ll have an opportunity Friday to improve that record. In the second semifinal of the ACC tournament, second-seeded Virginia (10-2) faces third-seeded North Carolina (9-4) at 7:30 p.m. at Klöckner.
In the first semifinal, No. 1 seed Duke (11-3) meets fourth-seeded Maryland (7-3) at 5 p.m. The championship game is set for Sunday at 3 p.m. at Klöckner. ESPNU will televise all three of the tourney games.
About 175 miles away, in Durham, N.C., the ACC women’s lacrosse tournament also begins Friday. In the first game, on Comcast SportsNet, fourth-seeded UVa (10-5) takes on fifth-seeded Boston College (8-7) at noon. The winner advances to meet top-seeded North Carolina (13-2) in the semifinals Saturday at 1 p.m.
This is Julie Myers’ 17th season as head coach at her alma mater, and in each of the first 16 the ‘Hoos advanced to the NCAA tournament. Virginia’s postseason prospects look good again this year, Myers said, and a win over BC would boost them further.
“Clearly, we do have five losses, so we can’t ignore those, but we have a couple of great wins in our 10 wins,” Myers said.
In the latest coaches’ poll, Syracuse is No. 2 and Duke is No. 6. UVa edged Syracuse 9-7 on Feb. 26 and defeated Duke 14-12 on March 24.
The ‘Cuse’s only other loss was to top-ranked Northwestern. “So that win gets stronger for us every time [the Orange] win,” Myers said.
In their regular-season meeting, UVa beat Boston College 12-10 at Klöckner. Virginia’s losses have been to Maryland, Penn State, UNC, Princeton and Virginia Tech, the No. 6 seed in the six-team ACC tournament.
The Cavaliers led the series 17-0 before losing 10-9 to the Hokies in overtime April 7 in Blacksburg.
“Our losses are not great,” Myers said. “Clearly, the Virginia Tech loss was not a great loss … But I think that we’re in good shape [for the NCAAs] because we have those two good wins in particular over Syracuse and Duke.”
UVa bounced back from the loss to Virginia Tech to beat Johns Hopkins 11-7 in Baltimore.
“To play at Hopkins in the middle of a week, I think, is a challenge in any way, shape or form,” Myer said, “and Hopkins is a good team. So we did a nice job of rising to the challenge, taking our game on the road and stepping up and really making our opportunities count.”
“[Goalie] Kim Kolarik did a phenomenal job early on in the game in particular. So she gave us some life and some excitement and energy and gave our attackers a chance to kind of chip away and come up with the win.”
Kolarik, a junior, finished with eight saves at Homewood Field. Senior attacker Josie Owen led Virginia with four goals and two assists. Owen and senior midfielder Julie Gardner were the Cavaliers named to the All-ACC team this week.
“This fourth-year class has done a great job,” Myers said, “and they’ve yet to play for a national championship or an ACC title, and I would love to see their hard work pay off and really lead the way in trying to get this done.”
Starsia’s seniors include attackman Steele Stanwick and midfielder Colin Briggs, who were named to the All-ACC men’s team this week, along with UVa’s top defensive middie, junior Chris LaPierre.
During their careers, the seniors have won an NCAA championship, in 2011, and an ACC title, in 2010. That ACC tournament was held in College Park, where the ‘Hoos beat Duke in the semifinals and Maryland in the championship game.
The Cavaliers are hosting the ACC tourney for the first time since 2008. That role is no burden to them.
“Logistically these things are challenging when you’re on the road, especially with night games and things like that,” Starsia said. “So staff-wise, coaching-wise, you don’t have to worry about any of those kind of things when you’re at home.
“Players tend not to worry about those things anyway, but administratively you worry about keeping yourselves organized, and it’s just a little simpler to do this exercise here in town.”
In 2010 and again last year, the No. 4 seed in the ACC tournament went on to capture the NCAA title. (Duke was crowned in 2010.) Clearly, then, this weekend’s results at Klöckner may not mean much next month.
“There’s been some discussion in the past about whether or not we should even have an ACC lacrosse tournament, maybe because of only having the four schools,” Starsia said. “But invariably when it’s put to the players, they almost always say that they like doing it. So for no other reason than the kids like to be involved in it, it’s worth doing.
“It’s also our way to stay connected to the conference. I like that about it. And we’re now televised with all the games. That’s all good for us.”
UVa hasn’t played since getting crushed by Duke, which has won 12 of the past 13 games in the series, often by comfortable margins.
Virginia’s players had two days off before returning to practice, two days to reflect on the team’s subpar performance against the Blue Devils.
“We had a very spirited day on Monday,” Starsia said. “It was a hard day, and they really worked at it, and I expected that they would.
“They’re a little chafed about how we played this past weekend, and hopefully we’ll turn around and [play well in the ACC tourney]. It’s going to take a great effort to beat Carolina a second time like this, and we’ve just got to do it.”
UVa has won nine straight against UNC and 13 of the past 14 meetings. When they met April 7 in Chapel Hill, the Cavaliers beat the Tar Teels 15-10.