May 26, 2010

Final Four Breeds Familiarity for Virginia

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

The Virginia men's lacrosse team is comfortable enough in the NCAA tournament as it heads into its third postseason game. Its veterans know all about the semifinals, the stage which the Cavaliers have reached for three years running. And Virginia is plenty aware of Duke, a team it will meet for the third time in six weeks in Saturday’s prime-time game at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium.

So for all that is going on in the Cavaliers’ corner of the lacrosse world, the on-field matters (while challenging) shouldn’t be much of a curveball at all.

“With a situation like the one with Duke, we’re almost as familiar with them as we are ourselves,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “We have a lot of stuff banked that we can work with. Defensively, it saves us some time when we’ve played someone a couple times.”

Perhaps as significantly, it creates perhaps just a little extra time to begin prep work for a possible title game. Coaches aren’t fond of discussing such possibilities, but the structure of the tournament affords less than 48 hours between the semifinals and final.

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

One thing likely to remain about the same? The offense. Aside from the possibility of sliding Connor English into Matt White’s third attack spot, Virginia is unlikely to look or play much differently than it has much of the season. “I feel like there’s less adjustments with your own offense,” Starsia said. “At that end of the field, you are who you are. Teams may slide or may play zone. Those kinds of adjustments [you make to defenses] are fairly subtle.”

Third matchups are not uncommon in the postseason, particularly for ACC teams that usually have at least one repeat matchup thanks to the conference tournament. For Virginia, this is the
third time it has met a team three times in a season.

Like the first two instances -- 1994 against North Carolina and 2008 against Maryland -- the Cavaliers split the pair of earlier games.

Unlike then, however, there are greater issues beyond the game hovering over the program.

It’s anyone’s guess when Virginia’s program will be looked at more for lacrosse than former midfielder George Huguely’s arrest for murder on May 3 in connection with Yeardley Love, a member of the Cavaliers’ women’s team. What’s clear, though, is it won’t happen this weekend.

The level of scrutiny is likely to diminish somewhat as soon as the season ends. But for now, plenty of attention awaits in Baltimore -- even as the Cavaliers have promised they will be thinking of the
women’s team as the season continues.

“There are things that are going on that are bigger than lacrosse and more important than lacrosse games,” Starsia said. “I don’t think these young men need to put any pressure on themselves. To dismiss that these things are in mind would be naïve. For us to want to carry the banner a little bit for the women’s teams, that’s just the way it is. The two programs have been supportive of each other and will continue to feel that way.”

Virginia will have plenty to contend with Saturday without pondering the last four weeks. Duke dominated the middle of the field in the teams’ first meeting, winning 17 of 25 faceoffs en route to a 13-9 victory.

Six days later, the scenario was reversed. The Cavaliers’ Brian McDermott won 16 of 18 draws as Virginia collected a 16-12 ACC semifinal triumph.

There’s also the recent tournament history Virginia would like to forget. It suffered a stunning loss in the first round to Delaware in 2007, then was ousted in double overtime against Syracuse in the semifinals a year later.

Perhaps the most jarring memory, though, was a 15-6 loss to Cornell last year after two emphatic victories to open the postseason. With only one player left from the 2006 team (Max Pomper, who took a medical redshirt), there is clearly some urgency for the Cavaliers’ veterans to make it to Memorial Day after the frustrations of the last few years.

“I think everybody understands what’s at stake here and wants to put their best foot forward,” Starsia said “You can’t replace what those seniors bring to the table. We haven’t quite finished this weekend off the way they’d have liked to. Their attentiveness to the preparation, that’s an invaluable resource that can only be attained going through it before. I look at those guys, and I think I have a group willing to do that.”

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