By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — Each of Julie Myers‘ first 20 seasons as head women’s lacrosse coach at the University of Virginia produced a trip to the NCAA tournament for her alma mater.
Can UVA make it 21 for 21 under Myers? The Cavaliers still have work to do if they are to extend their streak, but their prospects improved considerably Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a huge, huge win,” Myers said after No. 15 Virginia held off 10th-ranked Boston College 15-14 at KlÃƒÂ¶ckner Stadium.
Though it’s still only early April, this was Virginia’s final regular-season home game, thanks to a scheduling quirk. The Wahoos (6-6, 1-4) will play four straight road games before the ACC tournament starts April 28.
“It is what it is,” Myers said. “I’m just glad we get to play again, regardless of being home or away. We’re just excited to keep it rolling.”
Five seniors were recognized before the game Saturday: Mary Alati, Ella Cooper, Sarah Gillespie and twins Brooke Boyd and Kelly Boyd. Cooper then sang the national anthem, a memorable prelude to a game the `Hoos desperately needed to win.
“It was definitely on the back of our minds all week,” said Kelly Boyd, an attacker who scored three goals Saturday. “We knew that a lot was on the line for this game in particular, and it’s not a fun spot to be in, but it gave us more motivation, and I think that’s really what propelled us through that game.”
Gillespie said: “We all knew we had to win, but we didn’t really talk about it as a proverbial must-win [game]. We focused more on our seniors and having this day be really special and memorable for everyone.”
The Cavaliers led 6-4 at halftime and, with 17:28 left, appeared to have blown the game open. That’s when sophomore attacker Kasey Behr, off a pass from junior attacker Kelly Reese, scored her fourth goal, pushing Virginia’s lead to 12-5.
The Eagles (6-5, 1-4) could have folded at that point, but they pressed on and steadily cut into Virginia’s lead. First came a 3-0 run for BC, and then, after a goal by UVA freshman midfielder Maggie Jackson, a 4-0 run.
BC middie Sarah Mannelly’s unassisted goal with 6:24 to play made it 13-12, and a disastrous Senior Day suddenly seemed possible for the `Hoos.
“I think everyone was on the edge of their seats,” said Gillespie, a starting defender. “It made it a little stressful.”
The Cavaliers responded with back-to-back goals — the first by Jackson and the second by Kelly Boyd — to open up a 15-12 lead. Again, though, the Eagles rallied, pulling to 15-13 and then, with 1:09 left, to 15-14.
The game’s biggest draw control followed, and it went to the Eagles, giving them a chance to tie the game in the final minute. With 53.3 seconds left, BC called a timeout and set up a play for Mannelly, a senior who came into the game with 20 goals and 14 assists.
“She’s their heart and soul,” Gillespie said.
As she had all game, Gillespie tried to face-guard the Eagles’ star, denying Mannelly the ball, and the strategy paid off again. BC forced a pass to Mannelly, who couldn’t corral the ball. The Cavaliers came up with the groundball and ran out the clock.
On an afternoon when sophomore goalkeeper Rachel Vander Kolk made 10 saves, the Cavaliers held Mannelly to two goals and an assist.
“Sarah did a great job,” Myers said. “That last one, we were looking out for the backdoor. Because it didn’t work, I’m kind of glad they tried to force it in to her to be the hero, but I thought our slides and our awareness were good, and then we jumped on that groundball. That was huge.”
So was the play of Jackson, who finished with a career-high four goals. (She had totaled seven goals in Virginia’s first 11 games).
Jackson, who’s from Alexandria, scored Virginia’s first two goals and two of its final three Saturday. She also had a team-high four draw controls.
“She’s done great this entire season, especially as a freshman,” Kelly Boyd said, “but I was just waiting for her to have that huge game that I know she’s capable of, and today she just went all out. It was awesome.”
Myers said Virginia’s coaches have talked to Jackson about expanding her role.
“We’re like, `You’re so good, you’re so fast, you’re in great shape, we need you now to be more than a first-year and start contributing in every way,’ ” Myers said.
Jackson answered that challenge Saturday, playing a leading role in a crucial victory for the Cavaliers.
“I’m really glad we were able to get the win on Senior Day,” Kelly Boyd said. “We would have rather not let [BC] go on that run, for sure, but a win is a win, and at the end of the day that’s what we got, and we really needed it.”
To be eligible for the NCAAs, Virginia must have at least a .500 record coming out of the ACC tournament.
“Our back’s against the wall,” Myers said, “but I have loved our team. No matter how we’ve played and what our results have been, I feel like we have really good people that do the right thing at the right times. I’ve just always believed in them, and now to be able to see that they stayed the course, they did a little bit more, they did it the right way and came out with a win is huge.”