By Jeff White (
CHARLOTTESVILLE — One of her closest childhood friends often extolled the virtues of the University of Virginia, and that piqued the interest of Courtney Swan, then a standout lacrosse player at Vero Beach High School in Florida.
But Swan advised Shannon Boyles, whose family has deep roots at UVa, to be realistic. “I’m like, `I’m not going to get recruited by them. Don’t get my hopes up,’ ” Swan recalled this week.

Her doubts proved to be unfounded. After spotting Swan at a tournament, Virginia’s coaches began pursuing her, and the Cavaliers “were definitely top on my list after that,” Swan said.

She enrolled at the University, where Boyles is a class ahead of her, in the summer of 2011. A stress fracture limited her availability last season, but as a sophomore Swan is an integral part of a team that last weekend earned an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament.

At 3 p.m. Friday, UVa (9-9) takes on Penn (11-5) in a first-round game in Washington, D.C., on Georgetown University’s Multi-Sport Field. The winner advances to meet Georgetown (13-5), the No. 6 seed in the 26-team tournament, at 1 p.m. Sunday.

A 5-foot-6 midfielder, Swan was one of three UVa players recently named to the All-ACC team, along with redshirt sophomore attacker Dana Boyle and senior defender Megan Dunleavy.

Swan is the second player from Vero Beach, a city about 135 miles north of Miami on Florida’s east coast, to join head coach Julie Myers’ program at UVa. The first was Meredith Lazarus, a graduate of St. Edward’s School who lettered for the `Hoos in 2003, ’04, ’05 and ’06.

“It was a great start to a new area for us, and Courtney Swan has been phenomenal for us as well,” Myers said.

The Sunshine State is not one of the sport’s traditional hotbeds. Still, Swan said, she has not had to win over teammates at UVa who might be skeptical of her lacrosse résumé.

“I think it’s funny,” Swan said, “because everyone kind of forgets that I’m from Florida until I come out with full sweats on when it’s 30 degrees out and everyone’s laughing at me. And then we have a girl from California” — junior Lauren Goerz — “so I just think the game’s starting to grow and you’re going to see that more often on [college] teams.”

In Florida, Swan said, lacrosse is “growing tremendously. The games have gotten closer, because when I was in high school and before that they were kind of lopsided. I think that’s just a testament to how much it’s grown recently. And with [the University of Florida] having a program, and Jacksonville, and both making the [NCAA] tournament, that’s big, because a lot of girls want to stay close to home, and it gives their parents an opportunity to come watch them.”

With 36 points — on 25 goals and 11 assists — Swan is third on the team in scoring. What makes her especially valuable to the Wahoos, though, is her prowess on draw controls.

Like faceoffs in the men’s game, draw controls are held at the start of every period and after every goal, and they pit two players against each other at the center of the field. Swan has won a team-high 70 this season.

“When you have a kid that you feel like is going to get a fair share of them, and clean, I think it’s huge,” Myers said. “You can really kind of count on setting your attack and getting some fast-break looks in there as well. It takes a lot of pressure off your defense to not start off having to play with your heels to the ground.”

With 287 draw controls, 2010 alumna Brittany Kalkstein is far and away UVa’s all-time leader. At 5-9, Kalkstein was “a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and had great hands too,” Myers said.

By contrast, Swan is “not the tallest, biggest kid,” Myers said. “She’s a pretty normal-sized kid. But her hands are just amazing. Her timing to be able to find a ball in the air or on the ground has just been remarkable as well.”

Associate head coach Colleen Shearer works before practice with Swan on draw controls.

“We come out here early and do 30 minutes of just reactions, grabbing with one hand, protecting,” Swan said. “She’s worked with me a lot, which has been great, because I think I’ve improved a lot from the beginning of the season.”

The Cavaliers are in the NCAA tournament for the 18th consecutive season, a run that coincides with Myers’ tenure as head coach. As recently as April 11, Virginia’s prospects for making it back to the NCAAs looked bleak. On that night, the `Hoos lost to Johns Hopkins at Klöckner Stadium, a defeat that dropped their record to 7-8.

To be eligible for consideration for the NCAA tournament, a team must be at least .500.

“Losing that game was rough,” Swan said. “It just broke us all down, and we kind of all had to build each other up and come back, and our backs were against the wall playing Duke, because we had to win.”

The Cavaliers rebounded from the loss to Hopkins by pounding Virginia Tech 10-5 in their regular-season finale. That set up a first-round game for UVa with Duke in the ACC tournament.

In the teams’ regular-season meeting, the Blue Devils had pulled away from the `Hoos for a 13-7 victory at Klöckner. In the rematch, UVa upset Duke 10-7.

“Everybody knew we had to win,” Swan said.

Virginia fell to top-ranked and undefeated Maryland in the ACC semifinals. Still, at 9-9 after playing a brutal schedule, the Cavaliers were all but assured a spot in the NCAAs.

“I think as the week went on before Selection Sunday, we kind of realized that our RPI was pretty good and that we were going to get in,” Swan said. “We weren’t sure where we were going to be seeded, but then when the tournament came out, we were really excited, because we think this will set us up really nicely.”

After the loss to Hopkins, Myers said, “we were like, `OK, here we go. All bets are off, and let’s just go for it.’ And we pushed the kids and challenged them. We figured the harder we worked the more invested we’d be, and it would really help us out. And they’ve risen to the challenge and done a phenomenal job, stepping up, leading, not complaining, just kind of going with it and really letting their energy be contagious.”

In Feb. 9 scrimmages in Philadelphia, UVa defeated Penn and Georgetown, but “both teams are completely different from then to now,” Myers said. “It seems like five years ago.”

In 2008, ’09, ’11 and again in ’12, an ACC rival ousted Virginia in the NCAA tournament’s first round. In 2010, UNC beat UVa in a second-round game.

Given that, Myers said, “it’s fun to be in postseason and have new names and new numbers and new sets that we’re prepping for, as opposed to getting ready for another ACC team. Penn is really good. Georgetown is having a great year. But I feel like our energy is right, and with the way that we’re playing together right now and practicing so hard, I feel like good things are coming.”

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