May 11, 2015
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CHARLOTTESVILLE — For one University of Virginia lacrosse team, the season ended shortly after 3 p.m. For the other, the season ended about three hours later.
On a warm, sunny spring afternoon, the Cavaliers suffered through a miserable Sunday at KlÃ¶ckner Stadium.
First, in the NCAA men’s tournament first round, No. 7 seed UVa lost 19-7 to Johns Hopkins. That’s the most one-sided loss ever by Virginia in an NCAA tourney game.
The second game of the doubleheader was more competitive, but the seventh-seeded UVa women lost 13-11 to Penn State.
In each case the Wahoos, with an NCAA quarterfinal berth at stake, failed to defeat an opponent they’d beaten during the regular season. The UVa men edged Johns Hopkins 16-15 in overtime March 21 in Baltimore. The UVa women won 16-15 at Penn State on Feb. 28.
“I think both teams had some amazing fourth-years,” women’s coach Julie Myers said. “You feel like they’re well-prepared [for life], but you really wanted two more weeks with them.”
From a team that finished 10-5, men’s coach Dom Starsia will have to replace such seniors as Ryan Tucker, midfielder Tyler German, defenseman Davi Sacco and attackman Owen Van Arsdale, all of whom started.
“This was a tremendous group,” said redshirt junior Greg Coholan, who finished the season as the Wahoos’ leading scorer. “It was a pleasure working with everyone. Everyone brought it every day on the practice field. No matter what was happening off the field, on the field we stuck together, and it was great to see that.”
Starsia, who has won four NCAA titles at Virginia, has rarely enjoyed coaching a group of players more than this one, “and there was a lot to be proud of,” he said. “We just didn’t quite have it today.”
That’s an understatement. Hopkins (10-6), which will meet No. 2 seed Syracuse in the NCAA quarterfinals next weekend, led 7-1 after one quarter and 13-2 at halftime Sunday. The Blue Jays extended their lead to 19-5 before late goals by Van Arsdale and Tucker, who was hobbled by a hamstring injury.
“Everything clicked for us today,” said Hopkins senior attackman Wells Stanwick, whose brother Steele is the all-time leading scorer at Virginia.
Coholan, who rotated between attack and midfield, had two goals and an assist Sunday, as did sophomore attackman Ryan Lukacovic. Neither Coholan nor Lukacovic saw a blowout coming.
“We’ve been working extremely hard every day in practice, bringing it every day, working on all the little things,” Coholan said. “It just didn’t get put in place for us today.
Hopkins carved up an inexperienced defense with surgical precision, almost toying with the `Hoos at times. The Blue Jays successfully executed a hidden-ball trick at one point, scoring into an unguarded net as UVa goalkeeper Matt Barrett faced the other way.
“It felt like they were winning every matchup,” Starsia said. “I thought we settled down a little bit [offensively], but I never really felt like we got our legs up under us defensively.
“I was surprised that we didn’t hold up a little better at the defensive end. I don’t think it was any one guy.”
The score was 16-4 when, with 7:37 left in the third quarter, Starsia pulled Barrett and replaced the sophomore with freshman Will Railey.
Barrett, the only Cavalier to make the All-ACC team this season, came into the NCAA tourney ranked third nationally in saves per game (13.07) and 11th in save percentage (56.5). He made no saves and allowed 16 goals Sunday. It was that kind of afternoon for the `Hoos, who were bounced by Hopkins in the first round for the second straight year.
The Blue Jays were “really, really sharp, and just seemed to have an answer every time,” Starsia said. “It seemed like they always found the open guy and made a good shot out of every opportunity. So I give them a lot of credit.”
When the Cavaliers had possession, their shots often went straight into the stick of Hopkins goalie Eric Schneider, who finished with 14 saves.
“I thought we made his life a little bit easy,” Starsia said. “We’ve been a good shooting team throughout the year. So it was disappointing that we just didn’t cash in on a couple of decent opportunities we had early. I’m not sure it would have changed the [outcome of] the game, but it might have changed the flow at the beginning of the game a little bit.”
Lukacovic said: “Obviously we didn’t think we were out of the game. We want to play 60 minutes and work hard for the whole game and try to get back into it. But there’s a certain point where we just kind of let it get out of our hands.”
The Cavaliers, who were hoping to advance to the Final Four for the first time since 2011, when they won their fifth NCAA title, fell well short of that goal. Still, Starsia said, this “year was really important. Back in January, especially when Scales got hurt, I really didn’t know what to expect. And that’s why in so many ways this team has surpassed any expectation I might have had, had we talked about this in January.
“It’s a group that battled. They listened on the practice field. They were fun to work with … Could we be better next year? Well, I think we’re going to have to be special to improve on the effort of this team. Talent-wise, experience-wise, personnel-wise, we’ll probably be in a better place next year.
“You certainly look ahead and say this team has a chance to get better and get back to where we want to be on a consistent basis. But I don’t take that for granted.”
The UVa men never led Sunday. The women led once, at 2-1, on a free-position shot by freshman Kasey Behr with 22:25 left in the opening half. But the Nittany Lions (16-4), who’ll take on second-seeded North Carolina in the NCAA quarterfinals, answered immediately, and Virginia again found itself playing from behind.
At the half, Penn State led 8-5. The `Hoos finally pulled even, at 9-9, with 12:34 remaining, on a goal by Kelly Boyd, and momentum appeared to have swung their way.
“I thought we were going to win,” said Gahan, a team captain.
Alas for UVa, the Nittany Lions responded with three straight goals. Virginia (12-7) scored twice in the final 90 seconds, each time cutting its deficit to two goals, but could get no closer.
“A lot of credit goes to Penn State for playing a pretty fast, pretty aggressive game,” Myers said. “They did a great job on the defense. Our shooters were really struggling today. I think their defense did a nice job of collapsing and making life pretty hard for them.”
With 21 seconds left, Boyd converted a free-position shot that would have made it 13-12, but a shooting-space violation against Penn State nullified the goal. Boyd had to shoot again, and this time goalie Emi Smith made the save.
“I don’t think any of us were expecting this today, so those last couple minutes were very devastating for us,” Gahan, fighting back tears, said after her final game as a Cavalier.
“Endings are so abrupt,” said Myers, who has led the `Hoos to the NCAA tournament in each of her 20 seasons as head coach at her alma mater.
“Even though you know that they’re really real and a possibility, I think they always kind of catch you off guard and knock the wind out of you … It stings to say good-bye to [the seniors].”
In 2014, the Cavaliers advanced to the Final Four for the first time in seven years. The core of that team returned this season, and another trip to the Final Four was a realistic goal for the `Hoos.
“It just makes it that much harder,” said Boyd, who scored three goals Sunday.
In an emotional locker room, Virginia’s seniors addressed their teammates afterward Sunday.
“They have a lot to be proud of,” Myers said. “We played 19 games this year, and they did a great job with that, but we had about 200 other days that we were together as a team, and it’s those days and those moments that we’re super proud of and that they have to always try to find the positives in and just feel really good about all of their contributions.”