By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — With a victory in its regular-season home finale, the University of Virginia men’s lacrosse team did more on a warm spring afternoon than end a two-game losing streak. The ninth-ranked Cavaliers put themselves in position to play again at Klöckner Stadium this season.
A win over the University of Pennsylvania next weekend would probably assure UVa one of the top eight seeds, and a first-round home game, in the NCAA tournament.
“I’ll worry about that in about a week,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said Saturday after his team defeated No. 14 Georgetown 12-9, “but I think you could probably make an argument for that.”
The Wahoos (9-4) will meet the Quakers (6-6) next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the ACC/Penn Challenge at PPL Park in Chester, Pa. The `Hoos did not qualify for the four-team ACC tournament, and that raised the stakes for them Saturday at Klöckner.
“We know that we gotta win out, and we gotta keep getting better, and I think that’s what we did today,” senior midfielder Tyler German said. “We started off a little slow, but we had a good team win.
“We definitely needed that. It was good to get it on Senior Day, too.”
Against the Hoyas (8-5), the `Hoos fell behind 3-0, and they still trailed 5-3 with 6:50 left in the first half. But at the 6:28 mark, senior attackman Owen Van Arsdale passed to sophomore attackman Ryan Lukacovic for a goal that made it 5-4 and triggered a 7-0 run for Virginia.
The Cavaliers took the lead for good on an unassisted goal by Lukacovic with 2:52 left in the second quarter.
Lukacovic, who had scored one goal in his previous six games, finished with four goals and three assists Saturday. And he did so after failing to convert a couple of good scoring opportunities early against the Hokies’ zone defense.
“We had to have it, and today in particular, because that’s what they were giving us on the offense,” Starsia said. “And so when he doesn’t score on the first one, and the second one, and the third one, you wonder if he’s going to be [shut out] here. Then we got a real problem.
“The fact that he got it going had everything to do with us winning today.”
Other standouts for Virginia included German, who scored three goals, Van Arsdale, who contributed two assists and a goal, redshirt freshman faceoff specialist Jason Murphy, who won 13 of 18 draws, sophomore goalie Matt Barrett, who made 11 saves, and sophomore middie Zed Williams, who had two goals.
Williams’ first goal pulled UVa to 5-5 and came on a play in which he and roommate Joe French, a sophomore attackman, fooled Georgetown with a hidden-ball trick.
“We kind of mess around a little bit [with] it in practice,” said French, who exhorted the crowd after Williams’ goal. “You work on little things, and for us today it was a good momentum swing, I think.
“We just needed something to spark our team, and I think the place was lifted off the ground. Zeddy did it all. I just kind of had to run around with my head cut off, and he made the play on the goal.”
In a Senior Day ceremony before the game, managers Sean Knightly and Michael Starsia (Dom Starsia’s nephew) were honored, along with seven players: German, Van Arsdale, Thompson Brown, Greg Coholan, Tanner Ottenbreit, Davi Sacco and Ryan Tucker.
“It’s a small group that’s been through a lot with their classmates,” Dom Starsia said. “But it’s a great group. We have had outstanding leadership this year. I’ve been blessed with some outstanding leaders over the years here at the University of Virginia and even before that. But as a group I don’t know that we’ve had a better group overall than these guys, a small group of guys totally committed to what we’re doing.
“I’m not dwelling on the personal piece of this yet, but they’ve done everything that we’ve needed them to do for us to be at this point right now. We’re having a really good season. We could still have a great season. It’s going to be because of their efforts as much as anything else.”
Virginia’s losses were to Notre Dame, North Carolina, Syracuse and Duke, teams ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 6, respectively, in the latest USILA poll.
“The ACC’s a grueling schedule,” Lukacovic said.
A graduate of Chaminade High School on Long Island, N.Y., Lukacovic has struggled at times against the ACC’s elite. But neither the Cavaliers’ coaches nor his teammates said anything to Lukacovic about elevating his play. They didn’t need to.
“Ryan’s really hard on himself,” German said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on our team. He puts a lot of pressure on himself, and he knew he had to play better, and I’m glad it paid off for him.”
Lukacovic said: “I know I have to step up … You try to say, `Just let the play go’ and move on, but after a while it starts catching up to you. I felt like I was in a little bit of a funk, not being able to put the ball in the back of the net.
“So to bounce back from that [was good]. I said to Owen on the field, once I got my first one, I knew I was ready to go.”