May 20, 2011

Virginia's Style Has Changed, But Mission Remains the Same

by Chris R. Vaccaro |

Chris Bocklet has rediscovered his finishing touch, an important component of Virginia's offense that now initiates mostly from its attackmen.

© Greg Wall

The Virginia men's lacrosse team that beat Cornell 11-9 on March 12 earlier this season is drastically different then one you'll see Saturday in the NCAA Division I quarterfinals when the teams meet again, this time at Hofstra University on Long Island.

Seventh-seeded Virginia (10-5) clawed back from deficits of 4-1 and 10-6 against Bucknell in the first round and won in overtime, 13-12, when Matt White scored with 2:33 left off a pass from Steele Stanwick.

Just getting to that point is uncharacteristic of the Cavaliers, who have been riddled with more adversity then head coach Dom Starsia would like.

"We've been a work in progress throughout the season," he said, "more so then we preferred. We've never stopped working. We've been forced to retool on the fly."

Stanwick, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist and ACC Player of the Year, has been hampered by foot and calf injuries since before the Ohio State game in March, and Matt Lovejoy is out for the year after undergoing shoulder surgery before the Johns Hopkins loss March 26.

It was less then perfect timing with Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina and two games against Duke on the slate. Virginia went 1-4 in that stretc, with its only win coming against the Tar Heels on April 9.

"It was a hard education on the fly," said Starsia, who is one win away from breaking Jack Emmer's Division I victory total of 326. "As we had to make some personnel decisions, the notion of our team changed. We're a different team now then we were then. We're not a team on offense that can generate 50 shots a game; we need to be more efficient. We need to take better care of the ball. It's required now in order for us to be effective."

By personnel decisions, Starsia means the Brattons. The lacrosse world is all too familiar with the dismissal of Shamel Bratton and indefinite suspension of his twin brother Rhamel Bratton, who won't play Saturday. This changed Virginia's complexion on the field offensively, forcing the Cavaliers to generate less from the midfield rather and more from behind the cage.

"When we were full-strength we'd challenge you and win a lot of battles," Starsia said. "We picked our spots a little better."

Looking at the shot totals alone against Bucknell, the 47-30 disadvantage tells a story of changed paths in offensive construction.

"We just don't have that anymore," Starsia said.

As for defense, without Lovejoy, the Cavaliers are more conservative and have sometimes employed a zone. Starsia said the group has improved the last couple of weeks, but is not as strong as the beginning of the season.

The Stanwick injury had the same affect, but he's able to finish the season. He's thrown the team on his back and is only starting to feel better, Starsia said. For nearly five weeks he did not practice once.

"It was very frustrating for him," Starsia said of Stanwick, who leads Virginia with 57 points (26g, 31a). "We've come to appreciate how tough Steele is."

As for second-seeded Cornell (14-2), its lineup is remarkably similar to the original match p in March, only the Big Red is playing with more confidence. Excluding the Stanwick-Rob Pannell battle for the Tewaaraton that will take place under the fold of the playoff atmosphere, anything's possible come game time.

"They know exactly who they are," Starsia said. "I see a complete lacrosse team, and we're going to have our hands full this weekend."

The winner plays Saturday, May 28 in the final four against either No. 3 Johns Hopkins or No. 6 Denver.

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