By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – As her players celebrated a few feet away on the field at Klöckner Stadium, Julie Myers asked her mentor, senior associate athletics director Jane Miller, for an update on the North Carolina-Florida women’s lacrosse game.
Myers played for Miller at Virginia and later succeeded her as the program’s head coach. What Miller told her on this soggy Sunday afternoon – that the Tar Heels had defeated the visiting Gators 15-11 – did not surprise Myers.
North Carolina, the ACC champion, is the NCAA tournament’s No. 3 seed and a perennial power in the sport. Its victory over Florida means UNC (16-3) and No. 6 seed UVA (13-6) will meet in the NCAA quarterfinals Saturday in Chapel Hill, N.C.
Virginia advanced with a 15-12 victory over Navy at Klöckner on Saturday afternoon.
“You can’t get to a Final Four without going through Carolina,” Myers said.
That was the case in 2014, when the Cavaliers knocked off the Heels 10-9 in Chapel Hill to advance to the Final Four for the first time in seven years.
Since that victory, UVA has dropped five straight to UNC. In the longtime rivals’ most recent meeting, Carolina edged Virginia 13-12 on March 9 in Chapel Hill.
“We’re pumped to get another chance at them,” junior midfielder Sammy Mueller said.
“We have some unfinished business,” senior midfielder Maggie Jackson said. “I’m definitely looking forward to next weekend.”
Myers said: “We were up one down the stretch of that game, and we came up a little bit short, so it’s going to be exciting to be able to get another crack at that.”
Its second-round game with Navy (16-5) was another rematch for UVA. In the season opener for both teams, the Wahoos had defeated the Midshipmen by the same score (15-12) at the same venue (Klöckner Stadium) on Feb. 9.
Their second meeting was fiercely contested, too. The Hoos trailed only once Sunday, at 1-0, but every time they’d start to pull away, Navy would reel them back in. After back-to-back goals by Mueller extended Virginia’s lead to 13-7 with 16:12 remaining, the Midshipmen answered with three straight goals.
Navy cut Virginia’s lead to 14-12 with 3:20 left, and a tense finish seemed possible. The Cavaliers had struggled on draw controls all afternoon – the Midshipmen finished with a 19-9 edge in that area – but Jackson came away with the next one, and Mueller’s sixth goal made it 15-12 with 1:57 to play.
“Sammy’s such a great player,” said Jackson, who like Mueller was named to the All-ACC first team last month. “Ever since she came in, she’s always been crafty and smart and come through with big plays. I love playing with her, and we’re going to try to make it last as long as we can.”
Mueller, who also had two assists Sunday, leads the Hoos with 71 points this season.
“And she does it as a middie, which is the other amazing thing,” Myers said. “We’re like, ‘She’s getting tired, we want to get her off the field,’ and she’s waving us off [and saying], ‘No, I want to stay on.’ She’s tough as nails, and she’s just a really, really smart player. When it’s time to go, she’s ready to go. It’s huge that we have her.”
The game was the first since April 24 for the Hoos, who had a first-round bye, “so
it was nice to see us start strong in that first half,” Myers said.
She added that she’s delighted her players get “to feel the elation of continuing on for another week. It’s a time to play and have fun and find the excitement and energy in each other.”
In 2015, ’17 and ’18, the Cavaliers were eliminated in the NCAA tournament’s second round. They suffered a first-round loss in 2016. To get back to the NCAA quarterfinals is “just a great accomplishment for our program,” said Mueller, who was the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2017.
“It’s what you play in the fall for. It’s what your goal is as a team, and it’s just awesome that we could come out and accomplish that.”
In Navy, UVA faced an opponent that has had considerable postseason success. The Midshipmen reached the Final Four in 2017 and the NCAA quarterfinals last year. Navy attacker Kelly Larkin is already the Patriot League’s all-time leader in points, with 346, and she’s only a junior.
Larkin is from Alexandria, as is Jackson. Larkin graduated from Bishop Ireton and Jackson from Georgetown Visitation Prep.
“I grew up playing with her,” Jackson said. “We played in the same rec league. We went to rival high schools, so it’s always fun matching up with each other. She’s such a good player, and she’s really smart. So it was good competition, but it was also a good test in getting us ready for next week.”
Larkin led Navy with six points, on three goals and three assists. Jackson shined, too. She finished with three goals and four draw controls, and she caused a team-high three turnovers. The last one came when, with 70 seconds left, Jackson picked off a Navy pass to effectively seal the victory for Virginia.
The Hoos weren’t perfect Sunday, especially on draw controls, “but we were able to get the turnovers on defense and be smart when we had the ball on attack,” Jackson said.
Draw controls are “definitely an area we need to focus on,” Myers said, “because we need possession of the ball.”
Sunday’s game marked the NCAA tournament debut of Charlie Campbell, a goalie from Long Island, N.Y. Campbell is in her third year at UVA, but she redshirted in 2017 while recovering from a knee injury she sustained as a senior at St. Anthony’s High School.
In 2018, Campbell backed up Rachel Vander Kolk, a four-year starter for Virginia. Against Navy, Campbell made nine saves.
“She came in as a really good high school goalie, but she’s just gotten better,” Myers said, “and I think part of that was being patient and just making the most of her opportunities. It’s really exciting that it’s finally her time to shine.
“Every position has a big jump from high school to college, but really that goalie spot is a huge jump. The hard part was she was champing at the bit last year as a second-year. She really wanted to be able to compete in her first year as an eligible player, and she did a great job of fighting and really helping Rachel do as well as she did. But now that it’s her time, we’re all excited, and she’s doing a nice job with it.”
Campbell said: “I’m always champing at the bit to play. That was definitely true. But it was also an incredible learning experience. Was it frustrating? Yes. But that’s what makes you an athlete. You just want to play. You want to go out there. I wanted to be out there and I wanted to help my team, but I was learning and helping my team in practice at the same time.”
Myers has guided the Cavaliers to the NCAA tournament in each of her 24 seasons as head coach. Virginia won the NCAA title in 2004 and was runner-up in 1996, ’98, ’99, 2003, ’05 and ’07. A win Saturday would send the Hoos back to a showcase – the Final Four – in which they’re aiming to regularly participate again.
More than two months have passed since UVA’s regular-season game in Chapel Hill, and Myers said her team has changed since then.
“We have different players in the rotation,” she said. “We’re a little bit deeper than we were in March. We play a few more people now that we’re in May, and everyone’s just really excited to try to help the team win. I think people’s mindset is, What can I do for you? And I think good things can always come from that.”