May 15, 2010

Emotional Virginia Opens Offensive Floodgates

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- It started a little slowly with a runner down the alley from Shamel Bratton at 11:38. But once it started, it never let up.

Bratton (3g, 2a) matched his career high point total and was one of 11 players who scored for Virginia as the Cavaliers' vaunted offense unleashed itself upon Mount St. Mary's in an 18-4 first round NCAA tournament win. Despite a two-week break and the emotional turmoil following the death of women's lacrosse player Yeardley Love and the subsequent arrest of former senior midfielder George Huguely, Virginia played with joy and skill, happy to focus on the game. With the win, the Cavaliers advance to a quarterfinal game versus Stony Brook, but they also took a step past the most painful chapter in the program's history.

"I thought that was a team that was very glad to be back on the field again," said head coach Dom Starsia, who gained his 31st career tournament win. "What you saw was the culmination of some leadership, and the joy to be playing lacrosse again."

It had been just 14 days since the Cavaliers last suited up, for an 18-9 win over Robert Morris on May 1. But it seemed a lifetime ago for the Virginia lacrosse community. In addition to the Love case, head Starsia suffered the loss of his father, who died on May 7 after a long illness. After a week of practicing partially without their head coach and scrimmaging with each other, Virginia was ready to cut loose and enjoy the game again.

"It just felt really good to get out there and play with some guys in a different color, because we've been practicing against each other all week," said Bratton.

Bratton was one of three Cavaliers who tallied a hat trick, along with seniors Brian Carroll and Matt Bocklet. Sophomore attacker Steele Stanwick tied a career high for assists and set a personal best for points, thanks to a quirky first-quarter goal when he picked off a clear and shot on an open net to give Virginia a 2-0 lead just 27 seconds after Bratton opened scoring. The next Virginia goal was made for the highlight reel, as Bratton sent a pass across the crease that Bocklet had to leap to catch and then bring it down for a goal.

Even more impressively, Virginia did it all against one of the nation's best goalies, T.C. DiBartolo, who entered the game with a .606 save percentage. DiBartolo made 10 saves in three quarters, but he and the Mountaineers defense was no match for the Cavaliers.

"They blew me away with how well they played today. They're a very, very fast team. They're No. 1 for a reason," said Mount senior defender Matt Nealis.

Early in the game, the Cavaliers produced some close-in goals off nifty passing. As the lead grew in the second quarter, the Mount packed in its defense and allowed Virginia to shoot from the outside. The adjustment didn't help matters – the Cavaliers could rip from outside 8 meters just as well as they could inside. Virginia peppered the Mountaineers' defense with 47 shots.

"We were moving the ball well and drawing the doubles. It felt good to play. It seemed like forever since we were out there," said Carroll. Carroll's three goals versus Mount St. Mary's give him 90 career tallies, moving him past Matt Poskay (88g) into second place on Virginia's all-time scoring list for midfielders. He now trails the all-time leader Pete Eldridge by just four goals.

For Starsia, the most important part of the win was the chance to keep his team together for just a little while longer.

"It's been an emotional week and there's been a lot involved. The lacrosse game was not the most important thing that's shaped it, but winning the lacrosse game meant that we could stay together," said Starsia. "I got a terrific group of guys here, and any additional time we can spend here will be important."

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