February 18, 2012

Top-Ranked Virginia Holds Off Drexel in Wild Opener

by Sirage Yassin | LaxMagazine.com

PHILADELPHIA – Steele Stanwick wiggled through the heart of the Drexel Dragon defense, stick in hand, eyes fixated on opportunity, desperately looking for an opening that for much of the afternoon had never presented itself.

For three-plus quarters the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner had been corralled rather effectively by a Dragons defense determined not to let one of the nation’s most lethal threats get loose on their home turf. So much so it took the senior attackman until the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter to register his first shot on goal in a contest that appeared destined for a photo finish.

Drexel junior attackman Nick Trizano's second goal of the game gave the Dragons an 8-7 lead with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Virginia rallied to escape with the win. Trizano injured his leg and couldn't play in the late stages of the game.
© Kevin P. Tucker

But with the game in the balance with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 8, Stanwick found a way to break through the Dragons fierce defensive wall and place a chest high pass in the mesh of fellow teammate Colin Briggs’ stick. Briggs then located a wide-open Rob Emery at the top of the crease and Emery deposited the eventual game-winner past Drexel goalie Mark Manos with 4:48 left.

For the 11th straight season Virginia opened its season against Drexel, this time to the tune of a 9-8 victory for the Cavaliers in front of 2,331 spectators at the Vidas Athletic Complex in the heart of West Philadelphia.

On a day when the defending national champions were matched blow for blow by a feisty Drexel team that refused to go quietly, perhaps the bigger story for Virginia is currently transpiring off the field rather than on it. As the Cavaliers opened their season Saturday, closing arguments were being made in a Charlottesville courthouse where former lacrosse player George Huguely has been charged with murder in the first degree, accused in the death of former Virginia women’s player Yeardley Love.

Despite the court proceedings happening simultaneously, the Cavaliers chose to focus only on what they could control on the field.

“We knew we were gonna have our hands full coming in. This is a quality win against a very good Drexel team,” said Virginia head coach Dom Starsia. “This is one of these wins that’s going to stand up over the course of the season, and certainly a meaningful way for us to start.”

There are no hockey assists awarded in lacrosse, but afterward the consensus was that Steele was certainly worthy of one on the final scoring play.

“He might have got a bunch of those today,” Starsia said, referring to the extra assist. “Steele draws a lot of attention. He’s not always gonna be able to finish the play. Some other guys are gonna have to carry a little bit of that load. You saw the beginning of that today.”

One of those guys was redshirt freshman Owen Van Arsdale, who broke a 5-5 tie midway through the third quarter with his first goal of the season. Two minutes later Van Arsdale struck again, this time scoring on an assist from Briggs.

Up 7-5 late in the third quarter, it seemed as if the Cavaliers were poised to take a commanding lead in what was a tightly played affair. But a cross checking penalty on UVA senior Chris Clements, the only current player on the roster involved with the Huguely court dealings, put the Cavaliers down a man, signaling life for Drexel.

The Dragons answered on a man-advantage goal from senior Kevin Stockel, making it 7-6 Virginia. With 2:16 left in the third. Then, with just three seconds remaining on the third quarter clock, Drexel tied the game at 7 on a goal from junior attackman Brendan Glynn on an assist from Andrew Collins.

The Dragons regained the lead at 8-7 on a goal from Nick Trizano with just over 10 minutes left. But the Cavaliers were slightly better down the stretch, tallying the game’s final two goals. Sophomore midfielder Bobby Hill scored his first career goal with 7:58 left to tie it at 8 before Emery’s game-winner.

Drexel coach Brian Voelker was proud of the effort his team gave in defending Stanwick, but gave credit to an outstanding player.

“He’s got a big bull’s-eye on him,” Voelker said. “I thought Dana [Wilber] did a very good job on him. But [Stanwick] is excellent. If he’s not the best player in the country, he’s pretty close to it. I thought we did a good job on him today, but they won the game.”

In his first game as starting goalie for the Cavaliers, senior Rob Fortunato stood tall in net, saving 11 shots, including some big stops to preserve the win late. Van Arsdale was asked afterward about the mindset of the Cavaliers, knowing that each opponent throughout the season will be determined to upset the champs.  

“We know we’re gonna have to bring it every time,” Van Arsdale said. “There’s no room to slack off. We know that every team is gonna give us their best shot. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”

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