By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — More than two weeks will pass before the University of Virginia women’s lacrosse team learns its draw in the NCAA tournament. That will give the Cavaliers plenty of time to rehash their short stay in the ACC tournament, an event they’re hosting at Klöckner Stadium.
“I think we’re all heartbroken,” senior midfielder Courtney Swan said. “If we had just played a little bit better, we could have come out on top. But we didn’t really execute and made little mental mistakes throughout the game.”
Given an opportunity to avenge its most one-sided loss of the season, Virginia nearly succeeded. On the same field where Notre Dame humbled UVa 14-4 on April 4, the teams met again Thursday afternoon in the ACC quarterfinals.
The rematch was much closer, but the fifth-seeded Fighting Irish held on for a 7-6 victory, dashing fourth-seeded UVa’s dream of celebrating an ACC championship in the familiar surroundings of Klöckner.
“Being at home and losing is tough,” Virginia coach Julie Myers said, “but I think there are so many great teams in the ACC that that is always a very real possibility. I think just getting knocked out, no matter what stage you’re in or what field you’re playing on, is a big sting.”
Notre Dame (10-7) advances to meet top-seeded North Carolina (14-2) in the 1 p.m. semifinal Friday at Klöckner. The Wahoos (11-6) won’t play again until the NCAA tourney begins in the second week of May.
“It’s going to be important to use this game as a learning experience for the tournament,” said junior attacker Kelly Boyd, who led Virginia with three goals Thursday.
“We have a solid two weeks of practice before the first round of the tournament, so we should be able to change everything that went wrong today and hopefully get ready for a good run at the tournament.”
In the 26-team NCAA tourney, the top six seeds are awarded first-round byes, and each is assured at last one home game. In 2014, as the No. 6 seed, Virginia advanced to the Final Four.
Had the Cavaliers won Thursday, Myers said, they probably would have locked up a top-six seed and a first-round bye. With the loss, the `Hoos may well end up playing a first-round game, though it could still be at Klöckner.
“But there’s so many more games the conferences [around the country] have to still play,” Myers said. “We’ve done a nice job. We do have a couple of really big wins and just quality losses, so I think we’re still in the hunt for a top spot.”
In Division I women’s lacrosse, the halves last 30 minutes. In its April 4 loss to Notre Dame, Virginia didn’t score until 17:57 remained in the game, and that goal made it 11-1.
On Thursday, the Cavaliers scored the final two goals of the opening half and went into the break tied 2-2. With freshman goalie Rachel Vander Kolk and the defense playing well — freshman Meghan Heick blanketed Notre Dame star Cortney Fortunato — the `Hoos had every reason to be confident.
“We came out of halftime really excited and thought we were going to turn it around and take over the second half,” Boyd said, “but they were just winning the draws.”
Similar to a faceoff in the men’s game, a draw control follows every goal in women’s lacrosse. Led by Barbara Sullivan, a rugged senior defender, the Irish won the final eight draws Thursday and 12 of 15 overall.
The last one came with 20 seconds left, after senior attacker Casey Bocklet had passed to Boyd for a goal that pulled Virginia to 7-6.
“The draw is pretty much the key to the game,” Boyd said. “It’s how you win possession. This happened last time we played [Notre Dame] too. We thought we had a good plan today, but clearly we didn’t execute it.”
On draw controls, Myers said, the Irish “use their bodies really well, so it looks kind of legal, because they just kind of smash you with their bodies and not [by] swinging their sticks. But clearly we need to be a little bit bigger and stronger and hold our ground better than that.”
Swan said: “They’re just a really physical team. They bring their bodies in, and I think we got bumped off some balls we normally get.”
Even so, Myers said, “I thought we did a nice job of really not turning the ball over too many times and causing a few of their turnovers as well. We beat them to groundballs, too. That [draw control] stat was definitely lopsided, but I feel that we were able to get possessions other ways.”
The `Hoos never led Thursday. Their best opportunity came about nine minutes into the second half when, with the score 3-3, Swan had the ball in her stick and only Notre Dame goalie Liz O’Sullivan to beat.
Swan’s shot missed the goal.
“It was one of those things [where] it’s almost worse that you have a one-on-one,” said Swan, who has scored 29 goals this season. “You get a little bit more nervous, and that was my bad. I just pulled the shot wide.”
This is Myers’ 20th season as head coach at her alma mater, and Virginia is a lock to advance to the NCAA tourney for the 20th consecutive time. As much as their latest loss to Notre Dame stings, Swan said, the Cavaliers have no choice but to move on.
“The next time we play, it’s win or go home,” Swan said. “We just have a lot of things to work on. We have some time to do that. So we’ll find out [May 3] who we’re playing, and then all of our energy goes toward them.”
Myers said: “It’s absolutely heartbreaking and gut-wrenching to be [ousted so early], but I give a lot of credit to Notre Dame. I think they played a nice game, and they did just enough.”