March 29, 2017
By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the University of Virginia women’s lacrosse team, the turnaround officially started March 15 with an 11-7 win over Loyola (Md.) at Klöckner Stadium. The Greyhounds entered that game with a 0-5 record, though, so that did not qualify as a marquee victory for the Cavaliers.
More noteworthy was UVA’s performance three days later. Against then-No. 10 Notre Dame, the Wahoos rolled to a 15-5 win at home to even their overall record at 4-4.
“I definitely think there was an urgency, and I’ve also never seen our team that amped and energetic for a game,” midfielder Sammy Mueller said. “I think part of it was we wanted to get back to .500 and eventually get out of that hole.
“I think that game really showed everything clicking for us: from our goalie to defense to transition to attack. Hopefully we can play like that every game.”
The Cavaliers’ momentum has not slowed. They defeated JMU 9-6 in Harrisonburg on March 22 and then pounded ACC rival Duke 18-5 at Klöckner Stadium on Saturday.
“We kept telling [the players], ‘Here’s the set and the structure. Now make the plays within the structure so that people can play with you and off of you,’ ” UVA head coach Julie Myers said. “Now they’re doing the same sets, they’re just making it work. They’re making the plays, and they’re creating an awful lot of offense by using each other, which is great.
“On defense, everybody’s helping, so [All-ACC defender] Maggie Preas isn’t the person who’s leaving [her assignment] to go and fix everybody else’s mistakes. Now the slide packages are complete, and people are able to really work together in an organized way so that it’s predictable and they know where the help is going come from. Which gives [goalkeeper] Rachel [Vander Kolk] a chance to make the saves.”
The 5-8 Mueller, a freshman from Pelham, N.Y., about 15 miles northeast of Manhattan, has impressed from the start, playing with an assurance that belies her lack of college experience. With 22 goals, she’s the second-leading scorer for No. 15 Virginia (6-4), which hosts Oregon (7-4) at Klöckner Stadium at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
“She’s grown up a lot,” Myers said, “I think because she’s played such a pivotal role for our team. She was really quiet first-year in the fall, and she’s starting to talk a little bit more.”
Myers smiled. “She’s a little sassy diva sometimes, but all in a good way. She knows what she’s talking about. She knows how to do it. She holds herself to a really high standard, so I think she just has the confidence to be herself a little bit more.”
Given her family’s history in the sport, perhaps it should not be a surprise that Mueller has had an immediate impact. Her father, Tim Mueller, played at Michigan State when the Big Ten school fielded a varsity lacrosse team. Her sister, Ally, starts at Northwestern.
“Sammy’s probably smarter than an average first-year [in lacrosse], just because she’s been exposed to so much more,” Myers said.
“She’s fast, but she doesn’t have blazing speed. She’s quick, but she’s not lightning quick. She’s just really smart, so she’s effective with how she plays.”
Mueller was a three-sport star at Hackley School in Tarrytown, N.Y., where she played soccer, basketball and lacrosse. Her mother, Caroline Samsen, was a gymnast at Connecticut College, but that’s one sport for which Mueller never showed much aptitude.
“I did it when I was very young, but after they realized I couldn’t touch my toes, it was the end of my gymnastics career,” Mueller said, smiling.
She committed to UVA during the summer before her junior year at Hackley. She wanted to attend college in a state with warmer weather than New York, Mueller said, “and when I visited here, I just kind of fell in love with the campus and the school.”
The father of a former Virginia player, after seeing Mueller play, had recommended her to Myers.
“He got a feel for the family and a feel for us and thought this could be a really good match,” Myers said. “And then obviously as soon as we saw her play once, we knew that she was pretty special.”
In Inside Lacrosse’s rankings of incoming college freshmen for 2016-17, Mueller, at No. 46, came in behind three other UVA recruits: No. 24 Sarah Platt, No. 34 Lauren Martin and No. 41 Charlie Campbell. If Mueller was not a heralded recruit, that was in part, Myers said, because she was overshadowed by players from the lacrosse hotbed of Long Island, N.Y.
“She came from kind of a small market, so she kind of flew under the radar,” Myers said. “The Long Island schools in New York are kind of the cat’s meow.”
Mueller, who plans to apply to UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce, has scored at least one goal in every game this season, and she’s had multiple goals six times. In her second college game, she scored six goals, including two in the final minute, to help UVA rally for a 15-14 win over Richmond.
“I couldn’t have predicted this, but I knew, after my meetings with the coaches and also fall ball, I would play a bit of a role on the team,” Mueller said. “I didn’t think I’d be playing as big of a role as I am now, but it’s great.”
Early in the season, when the `Hoos were struggling, Mueller was scoring more than she has recently. That’s fine with Myers.
“She’s been steady, and other kids have been doing more,” Myers said. “In the beginning of the season, when she had that six-goal game, other attackers weren’t doing that much, and the team really looked to Sammy to win games.”
After Virginia’s season-opening loss to Elon, Myers challenged her veteran players.
“I was like, `You’ve got a first-year in her first college game, and people are looking to Sammy to win the game. As older players and experienced players, you need to lead the charge, and then Sammy can help. But you’ve got to set each other up for success,’ ” Myers said. “So I think other people have started to do more.”
This is Myers’ 22nd season as head coach at her alma mater. In each of her first 21 years, Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA tournament. When Virginia was 2-4, that streak appeared to be in jeopardy, but the players never lost heart.
“I wouldn’t even actually say we were down on ourselves,” Mueller said. “It was more we were upset that we weren’t playing up to our full potential. We knew we had so much potential, and it was just a matter of really working together and really trying to start getting it to click.”
NOTE: The UVA-Oregon game will be streamed live Wednesday night on ACC Network Extra. It can be viewed through ESPN3 or the WatchESPN app.