April 6, 2011

Lambrecht: The Bratton Problem Not Going Away Anytime Soon

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Shamel Bratton's invaluable talents on the field for Virginia have been offset by the distractions he poses off of it, including his latest indefinite suspension, writes Gary Lambrecht.

© Greg Wall

The daunting homestretch of the regular season is staring at it, starting with a visit this week from fifth-ranked North Carolina. And Virginia men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia has his share of problems to solve.

There is that young defense, which continues to spring leaks at a disturbing rate and has allowed 12 goals in each defeat that comprises Virginia's two-game losing streak. There is the faceoff game that needs to sharpen, as the Cavs are winning a pedestrian, 48.4 percent of their draws, which translates into precious lost possessions for their high-powered offense.

And then, there is the Big Wahoo in the room – a nagging shortage of senior leadership.

Giving up four goals apiece to Maryland midfielders Joe Cummings and John Haus in Saturday's 12-7 drubbing by the Terrapins was painful enough. But the silent killer Saturday was the absence of Virginia senior midfielder Shamel Bratton, who, for the second time in 2011, was suspended by Starsia for a violation of team rules.

Virginia (7-3) has been down this road of immaturity too often this spring.

In the team's season-opening victory over Drexel, senior goalie Adam Ghitelman served a one-game suspension for breaking with team policy. A week later, the Bratton twins, Shamel and Rhamel, sat out for the same reason against Stony Brook. And now, Shamel has done it again, this time by earning an indefinite suspension.

Never mind the on-field shortcomings. Are the Cavaliers, now ranked No. 9, grown-up enough to be more than a potential playoff footnote?

"We're getting good leadership from some of the seniors. I'm getting good help from a lot of guys on this team," said Starsia, who as of Tuesday had yet to decide if Shamel Bratton would play against the Tar Heels. "Guys like [senior long-stick midfielder] Bray Malphrus, [red-shirt junior defenseman] Chris Clements and [junior midfielder] Colin Briggs are helping to lead.

"It is frustrating to be dealing with some of these [disciplinary] issues. My job is to kind of help some of these guys grow up. It can be very frustrating. I try not to throw in the towel on my guys. If any of these things is even a little bit of a distraction, it makes a game against a Carolina or a Maryland even more challenging. But I can't compromise on some core issues as we go along."

Read beneath and between the lines of Starsia's comments, and recognize the light under which Virginia is operating this year.

It has only been 11 months since the entire lacrosse world was rocked by the death of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, a member of the Virginia women's lacrosse team. It has only been 11 months since 23-year-old George Huguely, one of Starsia's former players, was accused of beating Love to death. Huguely remains in solitary confinement in a Charlottesville jail cell, awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges.

Starsia and his coaching staff and players are under strict orders not to comment publicly on the case. But amidst the silence, you don't need to be a calculus expert to hazard an educated guess here. The internal, administrative scrutiny of Starsia's program must be pretty intense.

In that light, it will be interesting to see how Starsia navigates his Bratton problem, which has bothered the team in previous seasons. It showed up again during the Cavaliers' 12-11 loss at Johns Hopkins on March 26, when Shamel Bratton threw a tantrum on the Cavaliers' sideline.

Privately, Virginia lacrosse alums are getting fed up. One Major League Lacrosse player told me that his teammate, a former Cavaliers player, said he "wishes the Brattons would just go away."

On the field, the Brattons are invaluable to Virginia. They present the type of dodging and scoring threats that are rare on Division I midfields. Shamel is averaging three points per game. Rhamel is averaging nearly two points per game. Together, they stretch opposing defenses and create more space for Virginia's superb attack combination of Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet to inflict damage. Without the Brattons, the Cavaliers likely are not leading the NCAA with an average of 13.4 goals per game.

But in the coming weeks, as Virginia takes on Duke and Penn and competes in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament while positioning itself for the best seed possible in the NCAAs, the Cavs must iron out more than the holes in their defense or faceoff game. They must find out if some seniors – starting with Shamel Bratton as the latest example again – are truly equipped with the right stuff.

"[The discipline problem] definitely gives us another reason to persevere. On the whole, we have worked very hard and have done things the right way," Starsia said. "We could be stronger for having gone through this. It might make us better."

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