April 4, 2015

By Jeff White (jwhite@virginia.edu)

CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the UVa men’s lacrosse team, the schedule offers little relief. Two months into the season, Virginia already has faced the teams ranked Nos. 1, 2, 4 and 8 in the latest USILA coaches’ poll, and a date with No. 7 is looming.

Against such competition, the Cavaliers’ margin for error is perilously thin, and they can’t afford the offensive breakdowns they suffered Friday night at Klöckner Stadium. Sixth-ranked UVa missed 28 shots and turned the ball over 18 times — eight in the decisive third quarter — in a 10-6 loss to No. 4 North Carolina.

“We definitely had our chances,” said attackman Greg Coholan, a converted midfielder who led the Wahoos (8-3 overall, 0-3 ACC) with three goals.

After tying the game at 4-4 on a Coholan goal 47 seconds into the second half, Virginia didn’t score again until the 6:24 mark of the fourth quarter. That made it 7-5, but the Tar Heels (11-1, 2-0) answered with three consecutive goals to seal the victory.

“I didn’t think we were poised enough at the offensive end in the third quarter,” UVa coach Dom Starsia said. “We turned the ball over a couple times, and I think we got a little bit frustrated and lost our composure some, rushed a couple of shots, rushed a couple of passes that wound up getting away from us. You just can’t do that.

“We were always in the game, so if we had just been able to maintain our poise in the third quarter, we might have been able to fight our way out of it. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort certainly.”

Indeed, redshirt freshman Jason Murphy won 10 of 17 faceoffs, and an inexperienced defense generally held up well against an explosive UNC offense led by senior attackmen Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey. Sophomore goalkeeper Matt Barrett led the way, totaling 18 saves.

“Matt’s been playing like that all year,” said UVa senior defenseman Davi Sacco, a former walk-on who’s in his first year as a starter. “He’s the heart and soul of the defense, so we just follow him.”

Barrett said: “Holding UNC to 10 goals is pretty good. A lot of really good defenses haven’t done that, and there were times where we really looked like a top-10 defense. But there were also times where you kind of see our youth, especially in the situations where [the defense had breakdowns]. That’s something that kind of comes along with experience, when you start to get a little more calm in those situations and use your head a little more. But there’s definitely a lot to build off.”

Even so, the Cavaliers know six goals aren’t nearly enough to upset an opponent of Carolina’s caliber.

“We’re a pretty consistent shooting team, and tonight we just couldn’t bury them,” said sophomore attackman Ryan Lukacovic, who contributed two assists.

Senior Tyler German had two goals and an assist for the `Hoos, and sophomore Zed Williams added one of each. But the final member of Virginia’s starting midfield, All-America candidate Ryan Tucker, finished without a point Friday night.

Tucker, a senior, came in with 22 goals, second only to Coholan among Virginia players, and had scored at least one in every game this season. He missed all six of his shots Friday night.

“I thought Tuck had a number of good chances,” Starsia said. “He’s been [extremely accurate] too, the last couple of weeks. If there was anything a little disappointing, it was that our shooting wasn’t as efficient as it’s been the last couple of weeks. We had a lot of good chances. I thought we missed the cage a bunch in the first half, or it seemed as if we put the ball right into [UNC goalie Kieran Burke’s] stick and just made his life too easy.”

The ACC tournament starts April 24 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. To qualify for the four-team event, the `Hoos must win their final conference game, and that will require a breakthrough performance.

At noon next Sunday, in a game ESPNU will televise, Virginia meets two-time defending NCAA champion Duke (7-3, 0-2) in Durham, N.C.. The Blue Devils, ranked No. 7 in the latest coaches’ poll, have won 14 of their past 15 games with the Cavaliers.

For the `Hoos, the game will present another opportunity for them to reverse recent history in the series, and they’re eager to test themselves in Durham.

“We couldn’t hit some of the plays that we should have been hitting [against UNC],” Lukacovic said, “but I think our defense looked great today, and that’s a good step going into the Duke week.”

Virginia hasn’t defeated Duke since April 23, 2010. That was at Byrd Stadium in College Park, where the `Hoos beat the Blue Devils 16-12 in an ACC tournament semifinal.

“I’ve got a group here that likes to work, so we gotta get back to work and we gotta get a little bit better,” Starsia said. “I thought there were some things tonight that we could build on, and I thought we showed some things at the defensive end. We need to be able to put both ends of the field together.”

UVa has had to overcome several obstacles already this year, German noted, including the season-ending injuries of All-America candidates Tanner Scales and James Pannell. The prospect of facing the Devils doesn’t unnerve the Cavaliers.

“A lot of people didn’t expect us to be where we’re at,” German said. “It’s just another thing that we’ve got to deal with. We’re looking forward to the Duke game.”

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