By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The Atlantic Coast Conference to which Sonia LaMonica returned this season as a head coach bears little resemblance to the ACC in which she earned All-America honors for Maryland as a high-scoring attacker in women’s lacrosse.

Back then, only four ACC schools played her sport: Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke. Maryland, of course, now competes in the Big Ten, but 10 ACC schools field teams in women’s lacrosse: mainstays UVA, UNC and Duke, plus Boston College, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville.

What hasn’t changed, LaMonica said, is the fiercely competitive nature of most ACC games. A national ranking is no guarantee of success against a conference foe. She’s in her first year leading the Virginia Cavaliers, who were No. 8 in the IWLCA coaches’ poll when they lost 15-10 to unranked Duke on Saturday in Durham, N.C.

In most games “it’s gonna be a dogfight, whoever you play,” LaMonica said. “So we can’t overlook anybody, and these last few conference games it’s really critical for us to dig in and make sure we’re playing our best.”

The loss to Duke stung, UVA senior midfielder Mackenzie Hoeg said, but “there’s only so much that you can do, obviously, after the fact. All you can do is really learn from it and try to move on and fix a lot of those mistakes that you made, but I think our team did a great job of bouncing back.”

No. 11 Virginia returned to action Wednesday night and, in its final non-conference game, routed VCU 16-8 at Klöckner Stadium. Attacker Katia Carnevale, a graduate transfer from Lehigh, led the Wahoos with five goals and two assists. Hoeg added four goals, and junior attacker Kate Miller contributed three goals and two assists for UVA, which ended its two-game losing streak.

The first of those setbacks was against Syracuse, which rallied for a 15-14 win at Klöckner on March 23. The Hoos’ game against Duke wasn’t as close.

“I think our focus especially this week was staying present in the moment and taking it game by game,” said Hoeg, who’s second on the team in points, with 36. “I think we did a great job at that at the beginning of the season, and we got a little bit away from that in the midseason. The regular season is long, and it’s important to stay focused for every game and to focus on the next opponent.”

Sonia LaMonica

Three regular-season games remain for the Cavaliers, starting Saturday. At 11:30 a.m., UVA (10-3, 3-3) plays at Louisville (6-7, 2-4) in a game to air on ACC Network.

The Hoos will celebrate Senior Day on April 13, when they host No. 4 Boston College (11-2, 5-1), and they’ll close the regular season April 17 against Virginia Tech (8-5, 2-4) in Blacksburg. The ACC Tournament starts April 21.

Virginia is well-positioned to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament, and as postseason nears, LaMonica wants her team to lock in mentally as well as physically.

“We certainly weren’t overlooking Duke, but there’s lots of distractions,” she said.

The margin for error in most games is small, LaMonica said, “and if we’re not playing with a sense of urgency or ready to do that going into a game or we think it’s going to be a little bit easier that it’s going to be, that’s going to catch up with you.”

For much of the season, draw controls have been problematic for the Cavaliers, but Kate Galica was dominant in the circle against VCU (4-9). She finished with 11 draw controls, the sixth-highest single-game total in program history.

“Kate was just phenomenal,” LaMonica said.

A freshman midfielder, Galica is from Wayne, Pa. At Conestoga High, she took her share of draw controls, but mainly because she was “tall and quick,” Galica said, and not because she specialized in that part of the game.

“Clearly, high school and college are different, but the more you take them in college, the more you realize the technique that comes along with it,” Galica said. “You’re taking the draw against fourth- and fifth-years who all they do at practice is practice the draw. So it’s definitely something I’ve been working on.”

Katia Carnevale (center)

Coming into her first season at UVA, Galica said, she was “hoping to just play my best and get some time to show how I can play at the college level. So it’s really exciting that the coaches have given me that opportunity to show them how I play on the field.”

Galica, who has scored 14 goals this season, leads Virginia with 55 draw controls. “Kate is starting to really find some success,” LaMonica said. “She’s working hard on her technique, and it’s been a big focus for her.”

It’s been a collective effort for the Cavaliers. Senior defender Maggie Bostain is second on the team with 30 draw controls, Miller is third with 29, and middie Kiki Shaw, a graduate student, is fourth with 21.

For the season, the Cavaliers have come away with only 45 percent of their draw controls, but they won 21 of 28 against VCU.

“That’s something that we’ve been working on this entire season,’ Hoeg said, “and it was great tonight to see [Galica] do such a good job and see those circle girls goals do such a good job, and that definitely made an impact on the game.”

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