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April 12, 2013

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CHARLOTTESVILLE — When the members of the UVa women’s lacrosse team finally emerged from their Klöckner Stadium locker room after a lengthy postgame meeting Thursday night, their grim expressions told the story of a season that has not gone as any of them expected.

This is Julie Myers’ 18th year as head coach at her alma mater. In each of the previous 17 seasons UVa advanced to the NCAA tournament, seven times reaching the championship game (and winning in 2004).

Only once has a Myers-coached team not ended a season at least three games above .500 — in 2011, when the Cavaliers finished 9-9 after losing in the NCAA tournament’s first round.

But now, after losing 9-8 to No. 20 Johns Hopkins, Virginia faces a monumental challenge simply to have the .500 record required to be eligible for an invitation to the NCAA tourney, which will include 26 teams, up from 16, this year.

UVa (7-8 overall, 0-4 ACC) closes the regular season Wednesday night against Virginia Tech (8-5, 0-3) at Klöckner. If the 11th-ranked Wahoos win, they will face ninth-ranked Duke (9-3, 2-3) in the six-team ACC tournament’s first round. The Blue Devils defeated the `Hoos 13-7 on March 23 at Klöckner.

“Our backs are against the wall,” said senior attacker Caroline McTiernan, one of Virginia’s co-captains. “We have to win against Virginia Tech and we have to do very well in the ACCs. Hopefully we can do it. I have confidence in this team, so we just have to get it done.”

Against a Hopkins team coached by Janine Tucker, whose son Ryan starts in the midfield for the UVa men, McTiernan and Co. trailed 5-4 at the half and 7-4 with 24:50 remaining. But the Cavaliers battled back, and with 4:23 to play McTiernan made it 8-8 with her season-high third goal.

“I thought we had it,” McTiernan said. “I really did.”

So did her coach.

“I thought we had great momentum [late in the] second half, for sure,” Myers said. “I thought Hopkins, they were playing with their backs against the wall a little bit. We definitely had the momentum and the opportunities. We just failed to hit multiple shots.”

Virginia regained possession with 3:50 to play, but a turnover gave the ball back to Hopkins (8-5). The Blue Jays, however, struggled to clear, and UVa junior Maddy Keeshan intercepted a pass from goalie Cosette Larash.

The `Hoos could not capitalize. With 1:26 left, McTiernan had a free-position opportunity, but her shot was deflected, and Larash gathered in the ball. That started a possession which ended with Hopkins junior Taylor D’Amore’s fifth assist, this one to freshman Jenna Reifler, who scored the game-winner with 19.5 seconds left.

Virginia converted only 3 of its 9 free-position opportunities Thursday night.

“The 8-meter tonight was not good to us,” Myers said. “We didn’t make it good for us.”

In its Feb. 16 opener, Virginia beat Loyola 10-9 in Baltimore. Since then, the `Hoos have gone 0-4 in one-goal games, losing to Syracuse, Penn State, North Carolina and, now, Hopkins.

“It’s a tough year, for sure,” Myers said. “So many one-goal games that haven’t gone our way. Typically if it’s a close game, Virginia is used to winning those. But it’s a great group of girls, and they’re working really hard. There’s not much more we can ask them to do in terms of practice. They need to just keep staying together and find their confidence in little things and see where that can take them.”

McTiernan said: “I think this team has a ton of potential. We just need to learn to fight from the beginning and fight through the end instead of fighting the last five minutes.”

Virginia has been short-handed since defeating Princeton on March 16. In that game, starting goalie Kim Kolarik broke her hand and midfielders Maddy Fabiani and Sally Jentis suffered torn ACLs. Another Cavalier, defender Kelsey Gahan, is out with a dislocated knee.

Fabiani and Jentis are “scrappy kids that kind of fire up a practice as well as a game, so we’re definitely missing them,” Myers said.

In Kolarik’s absence, Liz Colgan has been starting in the cage for Virginia, and the junior from Cockeysville, Md., made nine saves Thursday night.

“Liz has done a nice job,” Myers said. “She’s doing enough. It hasn’t come down to our goaltending, I don’t think, in terms of these close games, but Kim should be back next week.”

Sophomores Courtney Swan and Dana Boyle scored two goals apiece against Hopkins. Junior Ashlee Warner had a goal and an assist, and sophomore Casey Bocklet added an assist.

Late in the game, Myers said, “I think we had some of our biggest ground balls of the season. Some of our players really stepped up with interceptions, creating opportunity after opportunity. It was just a hard night for our attackers to find the back of the net.”

McTiernan said the Cavaliers “have nothing to lose” as they head into the regular-season finale. The coaching staff won’t need to brief the players on the implications of the Virginia Tech game.

“They’re always aware,” Myers said. “They’re on the Internet more than we are. They know. And obviously postseason is huge, but just winning is really important, and the fact that we’re even close to .500, or now just under, is gut-wrenching for all of us. So I don’t think there’s any words that we need to tell them to let them know where they are.”

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