By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In yet another transcendent performance, the premier player in NCAA men’s lacrosse had two goals and five assists Friday night and walked off the field at Klöckner Stadium as the all-time leading scorer at the University of Virginia.
For senior attackman Steele Stanwick, that was small consolation.
“I think I would have rather just gotten the W,” Stanwick said after second-seeded UVa’s 11-9 loss to No. 3 seed North Carolina in an ACC tournament semifinal.
“I would have rather just gone zero and zero if we’d gotten the win, but it didn’t go that way. [The record is] something I’m going to look back on and be happy about, but right now we just gotta work on being a little sharper and putting our best foot forward against Penn.”
UNC (10-3) advances to meet top-seeded Duke (11-3) in the ACC title game Sunday at 3 p.m. at Klöckner. Duke edged Maryland 6-5 in the first semifinal.
The fourth-ranked Cavaliers (10-3) have the rest of the weekend off. In fact, they’ll play only once more before the start of next month’s NCAA tournament — next Friday night against the University of Pennsylvania (3-8) at the Mile High Classic in Denver.
“The most important thing is that we turn around and prepare ourselves for this game with Penn,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “We’re going out to Denver, a little bit of an adventure. We need to be very good at that and play very well next weekend.”
For the first time since 1968, the Wahoos have dropped three straight games at home. Their losses were to Johns Hopkins, Duke and Carolina, teams ranked Nos. 6, 7 and 9, respectively, in the latest USILA coaches’ poll.
UVa was ranked No. 1 when Hopkins came to town March 24. The ‘Hoos rebounded from their overtime loss to the Blue Jays to pound Maryland and UNC on back-to-back Saturdays, but then took a 13-5 beating from Duke on April 13. A week later, the Tar Heels (10-4) ended a nine-game losing streak in their series with the Cavaliers.
And now, for the second year in a row, UVa looks to regroup after a semifinal exit in the ACC tournament. In 2011, after a 19-10 loss to Duke, Virginia closed the season with five consecutive victories to win its fourth NCAA title under Starsia.
“Every one of these teams that we’ve just played in a row is going to be a seeded team in the NCAA tournament, probably,” senior defenseman Matt Lovejoy said. “What we learned is what they can do and what we need to do in order to beat them, because we didn’t.
“Fortunately, you can learn from this, and we need to learn from this.”
Stanwick said: “We can still accomplish everything we want to. There’s no need to panic. Last year we were hitting rock bottom at this point. We just gotta get back on the practice field. We’ve have a great season so far. We just haven’t had a good outing the last few times.”
Senior midfielder Colin Briggs and sophomore middie Rob Emery complemented Stanwick’s production with two goals apiece Friday night, and junior middie Matt White had a goal and an assist. But little has come easily for the Cavaliers offensively since their April 7 win at UNC. Redshirt freshman Owen Van Arsdale, a starting attackman, has gone two straight games without a goal or an assist. Senior attackman Chris Bocklet, who ranks sixth at UVa in career goals, with 131, has only two in the past two games.
“We need to be cleaner,” Starsia said. “I keep talking about being more efficient. You hate to think that there’s no margin for error, but against these top teams, there’s little margin for error.”
With a goal that made it 8-6 with 12:22 left Friday night, UNC opened up the biggest lead by either team to that point. Virginia pulled to 8-7 when Stanwick passed to junior middie Chris LaPierre for a transition goal at the 10:45 mark, but the Heels answered with three straight goals to effectively seal the outcome.
UVa’s last two goals came in the final 1:43.
“I would say that we showed some heart today, made a little run at the end, but we made too many mistakes tonight to beat a good team like North Carolina,” Briggs said.
“This is another reality check that we’re not good enough to play sloppy and come out with Ws. The good thing we’ve taken away from this is that we made a lot of mistakes and we were still in the game. I don’t think we’ve faced a team that we don’t think we can beat. We’ve got to just keep playing and clean up the little things and sharpen up the edges, and I think we’ll be fine. There’s a lot of lacrosse left.”
Starsia said: “You’d probably describe us as struggling just a bit right now, but we’ve just got to figure it out and get to it. I’ve got every confidence in this group.”
So does Stanwick. “I’ll take my shot with these 40 guys any day of the week,” he said.
When the game began, Stanwick was second on UVa’s career scoring list with 246 points (115 goals, 131 assists). Former attackman Doug Knight, who starred from 1994 to ’97, was first with 249 points, on 165 goals and 84 assists.
Stanwick pulled even with Knight at the 3:02 mark of the second quarter, on an assist to Bocklet. Stanwick, who wears jersey No. 6, broke the record at the 6:06 mark of the third quarter with a goal that pulled the Cavaliers to 6-6.
“He’s a very special young man,” Starsia said. “If he happens to be the all-time leading scorer and one of the best players that’s ever played at the University of Virginia, that’s only a small part of who he is and why he’s such a neat kid and why it’s such a joy to get to know him and have been able to work with him all this time.
“He’s really one of the very, very special players and special young men I’ve ever been around, and clearly he stirs the drink for us. We take our cue from him, and we’re very fortunate that he’s the leader of this team.”
Like Stanwick, Starsia hasn’t lost perspective about the significance of regular-season results.
“I don’t want these guys to dismiss the whole journey part of this thing, but we’re coming up to the part of the season that people are going to remember,” Starsia said. “We’ve had a good regular season, we just need to get back on our game as we head into the playoffs.
“We have the ability to kind of recapture the magic a little bit as we head to the month of May. We’ve hit a couple bumps in the road here, but there’s nothing that we can’t work through as we prepare for the next phase of this.”