By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — As they headed to their locker room at Klöckner Stadium, University of Virginia women’s lacrosse players passed Cavalier athletics director Carla Williams, who gave each of them a consoling smile and a reassuring high-five.

For the Wahoos, a season that began Feb. 9 with a 14-6 win at Liberty ended Sunday with a 13-8 loss to Florida in the NCAA tournament’s second round.

The Gators (19-2) move on to face No. 4 seed Maryland (15-5) in the NCAA quarterfinals. The fifth-seeded Hoos finished 15-5, and tears fell after the final second ticked off the scoreboard clock, as is often the case with teams that aren’t crowned champions.

“I said exactly the same thing at the end of the game to the group: There’s only one team that doesn’t experience this hurt, because it’s painful,” UVA head coach Sonia LaMonica said.

“It is painful, because this group has really traveled on an amazing journey together. Our seniors specifically have done an incredible job, and you always want your seniors to be able to leave such a huge mark on the program. But regardless of the defeat today, they really have, and that leadership group set the tone for these youngsters returning on how to lead well, and that’ll be a catalyst for our success moving forward.”

This was the Cavaliers’ first season under LaMonica, who replaced a coaching legend, Julie Myers, last summer. Coming off a season in which they finished 11-7 after losing in the NCAA tournament’s first round, the Hoos exceeded expectations this spring.

Their regular-season accomplishments included wins over two top-5 teams—No. 3 Boston College and No. 4 Notre Dame. Virginia’s seeding in the NCAA tournament was its highest in 16 years, and the 15 wins were the program’s most since 2007.

A first-year class that included Kate Galica, Jenna Dinardo, Madison Alaimo and Kate Demark made significant contributions, but the heart of the program was a group whose college careers ended Sunday. The impact of such players as Morgan Schwab, Kiki Shaw, Mackenzie Hoeg, Katia Carnevale, Maggie Bostain and Devin Whitaker can’t be overstated.

“I love all of them,” said Galica, the ACC Freshman of the Year. “They’re all such amazing people, and we couldn’t have asked for a better senior class.”

When she and her assistant coaches arrived in Charlottesville last summer, LaMonica said, they weren’t sure how the team’s upperclassmen would respond when asked to help establish a new culture in the program.

“But they were huge in that process, because they had open arms for us and welcomed us,” said LaMonica, who was named ACC Co-Coach of the Year. “I think at a certain point, this group understood that it was just a great fit. I think we brought an energy that they appreciated and really took to. That takes having an open mind and being willing to trust what the coaches are laying out for them and walking the path together. So they did an amazing job of that. We made history this year in a lot of ways and we wouldn’t have done that without this senior class. So I’m so thankful and I’m grateful that we had that group to catapult us moving forward.”

Mel Josephson (26)

Schwab, who leaves with the program record for career assists (159) and single-game assists (eight), was named to the All-ACC first team. Bostain, Carnevale, Hoeg and Shaw were second-team selections.

The Cavaliers opened the NCAA tournament Friday with a 21-6 rout of Long Island University. In their second-round game, they ran into an opponent whose standouts include Liz Harrison, a senior who ranks second nationally in draw controls with 227. Led by Harrison, Florida won 19 of 25 draw controls Sunday, forcing the Hoos to play defense for long stretches.

“We knew it was gonna be a challenge,” LaMonica said. “[Harrison] is one of the top in the nation. We’ve managed to come out of games on top despite that deficiency, but we just didn’t have it today on the draws. We threw different looks at them, we battled hard, but they’re very fast.”

For the season, the Cavaliers won only 43.9 percent of their draw controls, so they were not in unfamiliar territory Sunday and didn’t panic about the Gators’ decided edge in time of possession.

Sophomore goalkeeper Mel Josephson made 11 saves against Florida, several of them spectacular stops. Josephson and Virginia’s defenders have “been in that position before and we have come out on top,” LaMonica said, “so I don’t think that was sort of as defeating as it could be. These players continue to battle, and I’m grateful for the experience I got to have with this group. I thought they were remarkable. I’m so proud of them. And I know that the future is going to be bright because of particularly this senior class and the legacy that they’ve left here.”

Florida never trailed Sunday but wasn’t able to pull away until the fourth quarter. An unassisted goal by Dinardo early in the third quarter made it 7-7, after which the Hoos had several opportunities to go ahead.

“It definitely could have helped us, I think, mentally, getting that lead,” said Carnevale, a graduate transfer from Lehigh who led Virginia with 66 points (53 goals, 13 assists) this season.

“I think we just came up a little short in capitalizing on a few offensive opportunities that would have made a difference for us today,” LaMonica said.

Kate Galica

When the game ended, UVA’s players exchanged emotional embraces with each other and their coaches. Heading into the school year, nobody in the program knew exactly what would unfold under the new staff, but everyone “handled it with such grace,” Carnevale said after the team’s postgame meeting.

“Our coaches actually just touched on how we all just welcomed one another with open arms. We accepted the coaches, they accepted us, and it was really just a beautiful thing to be a part of.”

Carnevale expects big things from the Hoos in years to come.

“I see a lot of Final Fours,” she said. “I see a lot of championship appearances. I have absolutely no doubt on that.”

Replacing the departing seniors won’t be easy, but Virginia will return Galica, Alaimo and Dinardo, all of whom were named to the ACC’s All-Freshman team, as well as Josephson, Demark, Kate Miller, Nicole Cruthirds, Addi Foster, Maureen Duffy and Olivia Bruno, among others.

Dinardo finished third on the team this season in goals (39), and Miller was fifth with 28. Galica was sixth in goals (21) and led the Cavaliers in draw controls.

“We’ve got a big senior class that’s going to be moving on,” LaMonica said, “but that’s what many programs face each year. The question is, how do you integrate that next group? How do your youngsters step into some bigger shoes? I think we’ve got a lot of youth that are going to make a huge impact for us moving forward, but every year is so unique and so different. You’ve got to go through a fall to understand what’s possible and get the right pieces in the right spots for a successful spring.”

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