By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Among UVa men’s lacrosse fans, there was much hand-wringing about the team’s play early in the season. The Cavaliers were winning, but by the narrowest margins.

On opening night, they edged Loyola 14-13 in overtime after blowing an eight-goal lead in regulation. One-goal wins over Richmond — in its first game as a varsity program — and Drexel followed.

Virginia beat Rutgers (19-12) and Mount St. Mary’s (14-6) more handily, but both games were closer than they needed to be. Coach Dom Starsia wasn’t as unhappy as many fans were, but he knew the Wahoos had to continue to improve if they wanted to reach their goals.

More progress was evident Saturday night at Klöckner Stadium. In the teams’ first meeting as ACC rivals, Virginia hammered Syracuse 17-12 before an appreciative crowd of 5,102.

“This was a step in the right direction for us,” Starsia said. “Our conference is deadly. It’s nice to get a conference win.”

Starsia’s assessment of the ACC is not hyperbole. In the USILA coaches poll, Duke is No. 1, North Carolina No. 2, Maryland No. 3, Virginia No. 4, Syracuse No. 8 and Notre Dame No. 11.

“To beat a team like Syracuse by five [goals], it’s just an awesome feeling,” senior attackman Mark Cockerton said.

Cockerton totaled seven points, on four goals and three assists. James Pannell shone even brighter for the `Hoos (6-0, 1-0) against the Orange (2-2, 0-2).

Pannell, a sophomore attackman, scored a career-best seven goals Saturday. As a freshman, when he never fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered during a preseason practice, Pannell totaled 12 points, on seven goals and five assists.

He already has 26 points this year, on 22 goals and four assists.

“I just keep trying to play consistent each game, and I keep getting more confidence,” Pannell said. “Having these guys have confidence in me is a lot of help, too.”

Starsia said: “We’re not expecting this kind of performance every night, but I think he’s a top player at this level, and he certainly seized the opportunity this evening.”

Syracuse scored the first three goals Saturday night, and the crowd at Klöckner grew anxious. On the sideline, Starsia didn’t panic.

“Part of you is thinking, `I hope we get one tonight,’ ” Starsia said, smiling, “but other than that, I wasn’t concerned about climbing back into it.”

Pannell broke through with 5:16 left in the first quarter, scoring off a pass from freshman midfielder Zed Williams. That started a 6-0 run for the `Hoos, who led 8-6 at halftime.

“We started off a little slow, but then we started to get it together,” Pannell said. “This was a great one for us.”

Junior Mick Parks came into the game having won only 46.2 of his faceoffs this season, but he dominated Saturday night. Parks won 24 of 31 draws and had a team-high nine groundballs.

“When you win faceoffs, you just feel like you’re getting more in the flow of the game,” Cockerton said. “When you’re not winning them, like sometimes in our earlier games, we didn’t touch the ball for maybe a whole quarter sometimes, so you kind of lose the rhythm.

“But this game, Mick Parks had an awesome game, we’re really grateful to have him as our faceoff guy.”

Supremacy in faceoffs is no guarantee of victory, Starsia knows, “but at the same think I think over the course of the whole game, [losing draw after draw has] to weigh you down. They’re a very dangerous team, and it felt like there were stretches where they just never got the ball.”

That graduate student Joseph Lisicky controlled the middle of the field as a faceoff wing helped Parks immensely. The 6-2, 205-pound Lisicky is a transfer from Lynchburg, where he was a two-time Division III All-American. He picked up seven groundballs against Syracuse.

“He’s got a nose for the ball,” Starsia said. “He’s a physical force. You can understand why he was a dominant player in Division III. He’s not built like those guys. He’s built like one of our guys.”

At practice Friday, Starsia said, he told his players “there was definitely going to be some ebb and flow in a game like this against these guys, but I thought we battled the whole time, and even when they closed it a couple times, I felt like we continued to play. We never gave up. We never gave in to anything.”

After Syracuse scored back-to-back goals to pull to 14-12 with 7:43 mark, Virginia responded almost immediately. Junior middie Tyler German fed Williams, whose goal made it 15-12 at the 7:02 mark.

In five seasons on the varsity at Silver Creek High near Buffalo, N.Y., Williams scored 444 goals, a national record. As a Cavalier, this was his first.

“You could see that the whole team was anxious for that to happen,” Starsia said. “He’s the favorite son on the team, and I think everybody was excited that that happened.”

In less than a month, Virginia has played six games. The ‘Hoos will have ample time to prepare for their next opponent. They don’t play again until Saturday at noon, when they visit No. 16 Cornell (3-0).

“We did a much better job than we have the past couple games, but there’s definitely still room for improvement,” senior defenseman Scott McWilliams said Saturday. “We want to focus on keep getting better each and every day at practice.”

In goal, freshman Matt Barrett made five saves in his sixth start.

“There weren’t a lot of goals I thought Barrett should have had,” Starsia said, “but I felt like in a night game, the high stuff kind of caught him a couple times, and if we get a little more goalie play, I think we can get better there. We could have helped him on a couple more situations, so I think we’re still a work in progress at the defensive end a little bit. But we’re getting there, and this was a step in the right direction for us.”

In the team’s locker room at University Hall, Starsia’s players watched the UVa-Syracuse men’s basketball game before heading up to Klöckner on Saturday. Not long after Tony Bennett’s team captured a historic win, clinching the ACC regular-season title, Starsia’s squad showed its mettle against another group of Orangemen.

“That was a good day,” Starsia said.

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