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May 11, 2010

Lambrecht: Orange You Glad I Didn't Say UVA?

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Lambrecht Archive

Long stick midfielder Joel White spearheads a stingy defense that will lead Syracuse to its third straight NCAA Division I men's lacrosse championship, writes Gary Lambrecht.

© Greg Wall

The spotlight shining on the top-ranked, top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers no doubt defines the top storyline, as the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse tournament unfolds this weekend.

Virginia was going to grab its hefty share of media attention under normal circumstances. The Cavs are the most balanced, explosive scoring team in the 16-team field, and their defense is the game’s stingiest this side of second-seeded Syracuse.

But, in the wake of the tragedy that has rocked the Charlottesville campus -- senior midfielder George Huguely was charged with first-degree murder in the death of senior women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love -- the tone of Virginia’s participation in the NCAA tournament has changed dramatically.

Starting with the media circus that figures to surround its first-round game against visiting Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday night, Virginia is in for a challenge it never could have anticipated, as it gathers itself for a run at the school’s fourth NCAA title in the past 12 seasons under coach Dom Starsia.

How will the Cavaliers hold up under the weight of the sadness and scrutiny accompanying this ongoing criminal case? Even if the school requests that reporters refrain from asking players or coaches about it -- while Huguely remains in police custody -- reality can’t be made to stand in the corner quietly as the games go on.

A former teammate is now an alleged murderer of one of Virginia’s lacrosse family. That nauseating truth will linger long after this tournament is over, whether or not Virginia can summon the extraordinary resolve and focus it needs to win it all.

Starsia already was dealing with his own personal pain before this ugly story broke. His father, who had been ailing for several months, died of cancer on Friday. Starsia was expected to rejoin his team on Wednesday, after traveling to New York for a wake and a funeral.

Virginia’s 17-year coach sounded exhausted during an interview that aired following the tournament selection announcement on Sunday night. It remains to be seen if the Cavaliers can find and sustain the second wind they will need to complete their on-the-field mission over the next three weekends.

With that, some thoughts about the selection process and what could or will happen between this weekend and Memorial Day at M&T Bank Stadium:

GO AHEAD AND HAVE A GOOD CRY: The Georgetown Hoyas understandably are upset after being shut out of the NCAAs for the third straight year. The Hoyas (9-5) boasted the right combination of RPI (9) and strength of schedule (9), and they also beat a Notre Dame team that got into the field of 16 on its quality win factor (7).

NOW STOP YOUR WHINING: Georgetown, led by underachieving coach Dave Urick and his much-heralded recruiting classes, deserve to be on the outside looking in. You want to get in? Don’t blow a seven-goal lead and lose to Maryland. Don’t allow Loyola to kick your butt. Don’t lose to an 8-6 UMass team. Find a way to beat Duke or Syracuse.

NOTHING TO APOLOGIZE FOR: Loyola (9-4) nearly fell through the tournament selection ice by dropping its last two games to Denver and Johns Hopkins by a combined score of 21-10. That caused the Greyhounds’ RPI to tumble to 11. But Loyola was arguably the last team in for one very simple reason. The Hounds manhandled Georgetown, 11-6, on April 17.

TOUGHEST ROAD: To get back to the final four for the first time since 1993, fourth-seeded North Carolina (12-2) needs to fix the defense that revealed major cracks by surrendering 40 goals during its 2-1 finish in the regular season. Not a good trend while opening up against hot, high-scoring Delaware in the first round. Should they get by the Blue Hens, Carolina would most likely have to beat Duke and Virginia to reach the title game. That is some heavy lifting.

THE HOPKINS CONTROVERSY: The Blue Jays (7-7) are improving, still are not good or deep enough at midfield, and their matchup with speedy, quick-scoring Duke doesn’t bode well. But in a diluted tournament field, Hopkins was justly rewarded for its brutal schedule, and for beating a top 15 RPI (Towson) and top 10 RPI (Loyola) opponent to wrap up the regular season at .500.

NEW STARS: Eighth-seeded Stony Brook gives up too many goals, but the 12-3 Seawolves can score with anybody. A quarterfinal shootout with top-seeded Virginia at Stony Brook would be a tournament treat. Kevin Crowley, Tom Compitello and Jordan McBride each average at least four points per game.

SHOULD HAVE STAYED HOME: Hofstra (9-4) got in basically because it drilled a struggling Hopkins team by eight goals on March 13, then edged Towson in its regular-season finale. Rewarding the Pride after it lost to 2-10 Penn State and failed to qualify for the CAA tournament is quite a stretch.

LAST TEAM STANDING: The best two teams clearly are Virginia and Syracuse, and they will hold form and meet on Memorial Day. But the emotionally spent Cavs will not negotiate the short turnaround after winning their semifinal game. Syracuse, led by goalie John Galloway, outstanding LSM Joel White and the rest of a stifling defense, will walk away with its third straight title.

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