By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — In a turn of events nobody saw coming, least of all the home team, the Notre Dame women’s lacrosse team scored the game’s first 11 goals April 4 against then-No. 4 Virginia at Klöckner Stadium.
That ACC contest ended with the Fighting Irish, then ranked No. 17 nationally, ahead 14-4. The rout snapped a six-game winning streak for the Cavaliers, who were stunned by their margin of defeat.
“It was kind of a wakeup call for us,” attacker Liza Blue recalled. “We can’t just coast along here. We learned from that, and I think it happens to a lot of teams. It just made us kind of focus in again and play sharp.”
Eight days after the loss to Notre Dame, UVa hammered No. 11 Louisville 17-9 at Klöckner. That left the Wahoos with one final regular-season game, and that produced another emphatic victory. On a pleasant evening at Klöckner, fifth-ranked Virginia led 10-2 at the half Friday night and cruised to a 17-10 win over Virginia Tech, which scored twice in the final 16 seconds to make the final score more respectable.
Her players’ response to the Notre Dame game pleased UVa head coach Julie Myers.
“I think the girls took that game as hard as they needed to, and they were able to move on pretty quickly,” Myers said. “We did watch the film, and we learned from that as well, but I think the girls were in the right spot emotionally and mentally to not make it any bigger than one game or one day of our season, so they did a good job with that.”
Virginia (11-5 overall, 4-3 ACC) has seven seniors — Blue, Casey Bocklet, Daniela Eppler, Kelsey Gahan, Caroline Seats, Morgan Stephens and Courtney Swan — and they were recognized in a ceremony before the game Friday night. This ranks among the best classes in program history, and its members distinguished themselves again versus the Hokies (6-10 overall, 0-7 ACC).
“I don’t think we could have asked for a better night,” said Swan, a midfielder from Vero Beach, Fla. “Heading into the ACC tournament with a big win is something that we really wanted, and we wanted to focus on getting better tonight to prepare us for that postseason run.”
Bocklet, whose brother Chris starred for the UVa men’s lacrosse team, finished with a career-high six goals Friday night and also had an assist. Blue contributed four goals and an assist, and Swan had two goals and a game-high four assists.
Eppler added a goal and an assist. Stephens, a defender, had an assist, and Seats, a reserve midfielder, scored her second goal of the season. Gahan, a defender, caused a turnover and picked up a team-high four groundballs.
“The fourth-years led the way,” Myers said. “We had told them in the beginning of the game, `Details are going to be important, so hit the details early,’ and I think they did that.”
Bocklet said: “It was great. We all shared the ball really well, played strong, and it was a lot of fun out there.”
The Hokies, Blue said, are “a feisty team, so we knew we had to put them away right away and stay consistent. I think we let up a little bit in the second half, which we weren’t too happy about, but overall just a good collective effort.”
For the `Hoos, the postseason begins Thursday at their favorite venue, Klöckner Stadium. Virginia is hosting the eight-team ACC tournament and will play in the 1 p.m. quarterfinal Thursday, as the No. 4 or No. 5 seed.
“We love playing at home,” Myers said.
Swan said: “I think it’s the greatest home-field advantage you can have. Playing on Klöckner, there’s really nothing like it. Our fans are great, and the field’s a lot different than a lot of other fields, so we think it’s a huge advantage. And we’re just happy to have more games at home.”
There are more ACC games Saturday, and the tournament pairings haven’t been set, but Myers said her team is likely to meet Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
That would be fine with UVa.
After the April 4 loss, Swan said Friday night, “I think we wanted to get right back on the field and play [the Irish] again. They played a really good game that day, and I don’t think any team that stepped on the field would have beaten them that day. We know we have things to work on, and we definitely want to redeem ourselves for that beatdown.”
Virginia’s losses this season have been to North Carolina, Northwestern, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Loyola (Md.), teams that are ranked Nos. 2, 7, 9, 10 and 16, respectively, in the latest IWLCA coaches’ poll.
UVa, a Final Four team in 2014, is a lock to make the NCAA tournament for the 20th time in Myers’ 20 seasons as head coach at her alma mater. That doesn’t diminish the importance of the ACC tourney for the Cavaliers.
“I still feel pretty desperate to get another win,” Myers said. “You can never get too many of those, and it does look like we’re probably going to get Notre Dame in that first round if all things hold.
“We want to make this season last as long as we can, and certainly the better you do in the ACC tournament will set you up for NCAA hosting.”