NCAA Play Starts at Home for Lax Teams
May 4, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Depending on how long its journey lasts in the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament, UVa coach Julie Myers‘ team could run into an opponent it faced during the regular season, perhaps as early as this weekend.
No. 7 seed Virginia (11-6) opens the tourney Friday at 7 p.m. against Winthrop (17-3) at KlÃ¶ckner Stadium. These schools have never met in this sport. The winner will face Johns Hopkins or Penn State, which UVa edged 16-15 on Feb. 28, in the second round Sunday at 4 p.m. at KlÃ¶ckner Stadium.
For the UVa men, a rematch comes immediately in the NCAA tournament. In a first-round game that ESPNU will televise, seventh-seeded Virginia (10-4) hosts Big Ten champion Johns Hopkins (9-6) on Sunday at 1 p.m. at KlÃ¶ckner.
When the longtime rivals met March 21, the Cavaliers rallied for a 16-15 overtime win over the Blue Jays at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
UVa and Hopkins clashed twice in 2014, too. In the regular season, Virginia won 11-10 in OT at KlÃ¶ckner. In an NCAA tournament first-round game on the same field, the Blue Jays pulled away for a 14-8 win.
Rematches are common in his sport, Virginia men’s coach Dom Starsia pointed out Sunday night after the 18-team NCAA field was announced. Still, he said, it’s difficult to know how much bearing, if any, a regular-season result has on a postseason matchup.
“You’re always considering that piece of the puzzle, so to speak,” Starsia said. “At the same time, you just gotta win at this time of year.
“We’ve beaten [the Blue Jays] once. We’re going to have to beat them twice if we want to move on … It doesn’t matter which way it’s served up. You just gotta make it work for yourself.”
This is Myers’ 20th season as head coach at her alma mater, and the Wahoos will be making their 20th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament. For Winthrop, which won the Big South tournament, this is only its third season of women’s lacrosse. This will be the Eagles’ first trip to the NCAA tournament.
“They don’t play a tough schedule,” Myers said, “but they do a nice job with who’s on their schedule.”
The `Hoos haven’t played since April 23, when they lost 7-6 at Notre Dame in an ACC quarterfinal at KlÃ¶ckner. Had the Cavaliers won that game, they almost certainly would have earned a first-round bye in the NCAA tourney as one of the top six seeds. But Myers had no issue with her team’s No. 7 seed.
“I think there were about 10 teams that could have been in the top eight,” she said Sunday night after the tournament’s 26-team field was announced. “I feel like we were rewarded as much as we could have been.”
Notre Dame, which also defeated UVa during the regular season, is in the NCAA tournament, too. But the Fighting Irish (10-8) are unseeded, and if UVa seems them again this year, it will be in the NCAA title game.
“They’re not really on our horizon,” Myers said, laughing.
In 2014, Virginia advanced to the women’s Final Four for the first time in seven years. Many of the key players from that team came back this season, including seniors Courtney Swan, Morgan Stephens, Liza Blue, Casey Bocklet, Daniela Eppler and Kelsey Gahan.
“It was great to have that experience for the three-quarters of our team that returned,” Myers said, “and hopefully they’re talking to the younger kids about it, and telling them how every sprint, everything you do, every sacrifice you make over the next three weeks is so worth it.”
Seven ACC teams made the NCAA women’s tournament, and five are among the top eight seeds: No. 2 North Carolina, No. 3 Duke, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 5 Boston College and No. 7 UVa.
The conference is equally powerful in the men’s game. All five ACC teams made the NCAA tournament, and each will get a home game in the first round. Notre Dame is seeded No. 1, Syracuse No. 2, UNC No. 3, Duke No. 5 and Virginia No. 7.
“It reinforces for everybody what a meat-grinder the [ACC] schedule is for us and for all the teams in our conference,” said Starsia, who has won four NCAA titles at Virginia.
Even so, he added, it’s “more fun than it is hardship overall. Maybe not when I’m right in the middle of it, but it’s an exciting way to go through a regular season.”
Virginia, which went 0-4 in the conference, hopes the experience gained by playing such a grueling schedule will pay dividends in the NCAA tournament. But there’s no guarantee that will be the case for a team with numerous underclassmen in key roles.
“Your question is answered a couple of weeks from now, when you look back at it,” Starsia said. “If you’ve won, then this experience was the best one. And if you didn’t, there’s a tendency to be thinking, `Jeez, we got a little beat up in the regular season and we didn’t have enough gas left in the tank.’
“Our task right now is to make it work. We’ve had our share of injuries and stuff, but I feel like we’ve persevered. We’ve got a chance to get something done now in an exciting part of the year, so our job is to get it done … If we want to keep playing, we’ve going to have to figure out a way to win this game.”
Hopkins has won five straight since losing April 5 to Ohio State. The Blue Jays “got into the Big Ten part of their schedule and were able to get on a little bit of a roll and get some Ws,” Starsia said.
This will be the 90th meeting between the Cavaliers and the Blue Jays, who lead the series 58-30-1.
“This is one of the opponents you don’t have to work hard to get people’s attention [about],” Starsia said.
Hopkins’ attackmen include brothers Shack and Wells Stanwick. Their brother Steele is the all-time leading scorer at UVa, with 269 points on 126 goals and 143 assists. As a junior in 2011, Steele led Virginia, the tournament’s No. 7 seed, to the NCAA title.
Wells, a senior, is Hopkins’ second-leading scorer this season, with 59 points. Shack, a freshman, is third with 39.