By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — They were fresh off high school graduation when they received stunning news last June: Julie Myers, the head coach for whom they expected to play, was stepping down after 28 years as leader of the women’s lacrosse program at the University of Virginia.

“We were shocked,” Jenna Dinardo recalled Friday at Klöckner Stadium.

Dinardo, an attacker from Corning, N.Y., was among the high school seniors who signed with UVA in November 2022. The coaching change in Charlottesville could have caused the group to splinter; instead, it tightened the bonds among the recruiting class’ members.

“We were communicating about it,” Dinardo said, “but we were just like, ‘Everyone’s going through it on the team, it’s not just us, so it’s just a restart for everyone.’ ”

Myers’ decision to retire from coaching stunned the Cavaliers’ returning players too, so the incoming recruits weren’t alone in that regard.

“I think what was nice about it,” senior attacker Morgan Schwab said, “is that we were able to understand that whether you were a fifth-year or a first-year, we were all [dealing] with this change. And it was nice to have that as something to lean on and bring us together from the start. It helped us to kind of come together in a unique way that I don’t know we would have had otherwise.”

The incoming recruits weren’t sure what the search for Myers’ successor would bring, but they were determined to stick together, and “I think this is honestly the best outcome,” freshman midfielder Kate Galica.

In July, UVA named Sonia LaMonica as the program’s new head coach, and she filled out her staff with assistants Michael LaMonica (her husband), Caylee Waters and Kerrigan Miller and director of operations Maris Large.

“I am so happy with everything that has happened, because I think this coaching staff has done an amazing job,” Dinardo said.

“They’re all awesome,” Galica said.

Kate Galica (5)

LaMonica’s first season at Virginia has been one to remember. The Wahoos are seeded No. 5 in the NCAA tournament—their best seed since 2008—and the first-years have played a huge role in the team’s success.

“They’re a great class,” LaMonica said. “We knew in the fall that this was a really talented group, so we really wanted to maximize that potential. And I think they’ve shown that they’ve got such bright careers ahead of them, because they’re not performing like freshmen whatsoever. They’ve had a lot of good experience.”

To inherit such a gifted class “was obviously a blessing,” LaMonica said, “and it’s our job as the new staff to maximize its potential. So that’s what we’re working hard to do.”

The first-years made their NCAA tournament debuts Friday at Klöckner Stadium, against unseeded Long Island University, and several made significant contributions in Virginia’s 21-6 victory.

On defense, Kate Demark helped the Hoos limit LIU to three goals in the final 45 minutes. Galica, the ACC Freshman of the Year, won seven draw controls. Dinardo scored two goals, as did classmate Addi Foster, who also had an assist, and Madison Alaimo recorded a career-high four assists.


“I think it’s so awesome that all of us have been able to kind of hang in there and make an impact on the field,” Galica said.

“It’s definitely fun,” Dinardo said, “because we grew up playing against each other in travel tournaments, and now actually being able to play with them and call them my teammates is pretty cool.”

Coming off a one-sided loss to Syracuse in the ACC semifinals, Virginia started slowly against LIU (11-8). Once the Hoos found their rhythm, though, there was no stopping them in a first-round game that featured a running clock throughout the second half.

The 21 goals were the most Virginia has scored in an NCAA tournament game, and No. 21 came on a pass from Alaimo to Foster with 4:20 left.

“It was so fun,” Dinardo said of the game. “I’m so excited. I can’t wait for Sunday, and I just love this team so much.”

In a second-round game, UVA (15-4) will host unseeded Florida (18-2) at 1 p.m. Sunday. Florida crushed North Carolina 17-8 in the second game at Klöckner on Friday.

Madison Alaimo

Against LIU, junior Kate Miller led the Cavaliers with a career-best five goals, and fellow attacker Katia Carnevale, a graduate transfer from Lehigh, scored four. Midfielder Kiki Shaw, a graduate student, contributed three goals, as did senior attacker Mackenzie Hoeg.

As usual, Schwab’s teammates benefited from her extraordinary field vision. She came into the game with a program-record 151 career assists and collected six more against the Sharks, setting up two goals by Carnevale, one by Hoeg, one by Miller, one by Shaw and one by Dinardo.

Schwab’s understudy as the offense’s quarterback is Alaimo, an attacker from Wantagh, N.Y., who has 27 assists this season. (Schwab leads the team with 59, and Miller is third with 22.)

Opponents often try to keep the ball out of Schwab’s stick, LaMonica, and that’s created more opportunities for Alaimo to show off her playmaking ability.

“So today was something she had seen before,” LaMonica said. “So that was good.”

Alaimo and her classmates quickly won over Schwab after they enrolled at UVA last summer.

“They’re incredible,” Schwab said. “I think they came in with this fierce mentality, and they’ve had it ever since they stepped foot on Grounds in August until now. And they’re a huge, huge, huge reason as to why we’re at where we’re at at right now. I’m so proud of them and how they’ve continued to step up and continued to disregard how [young] they are. They don’t play like they’re first-years, and I love them.”

LaMonica said: “To me, it’s not just about fast success. You want long-term success, and the sooner you can groom your young players and integrate them into the mix, I think that pays dividends down the line.”

The Cavaliers’ freshmen will play many more home games in years to come on. For the UVA players whose eligibility runs out this year, including Schwab and Hoeg, Sunday’s game almost certainly will be their last one at Klöckner.

“That’s actually scary to say out loud,” Schwab said, smiling.

She added: “I’m excited. I think that gives me and the other seniors extra fuel. At the end of the day, to be here and to be hosting in the NCAAs, I wouldn’t want my last game to be in any other circumstance. “

To receive Jeff White’s articles by email, click the appropriate box in this link to subscribe.