February 15, 2013

Virginia's Starsia on Loyola: Beware the Championship Letdown

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Virginia coach Dom Starsia is familiar with how things can go wrong for a team looking to repeat as champs. The Cavaliers have won four titles under his watch, but have never repeated.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Virginia head coach Dom Starsia has guided the Cavaliers to four NCAA titles during his two decades in Charlottesville. And each time, Virginia has failed to repeat as national champions.

With that especially in mind, Starsia will be a curious observer of the Loyola Greyhounds in 2013. Loyola, the preseason, top-ranked team, is rebooting after winning the first NCAA championship — in any sport — in the school's Division I history.

"It's the psychological and emotional pieces of it that fascinate me. Can you gather that emotional edge [after winning it all]? Your emotional, jumping-off point is so different the second time around," Starsia said.

"Think of the difference for Loyola from a year ago today. They weren't even ranked in the top 25, and they came into the season [angry] about that. For the last six or eight months, everyone has been telling them how wonderful they are. It's a huge change when everybody expects you to be good."

Starsia is quite familiar with how things can go wrong for a team looking to repeat as champs.

A year after winning Starsia's first title in 1999, the Cavs fell to a young Princeton team, 12-11, in the NCAA tournament semifinals. A year after beating Hopkins on Memorial Day in 2003, Virginia failed to make the tournament. A year after going undefeated to win it all in 2006 with a senior-dominated squad, the Cavs got blown out at home by Delaware, 14-8, in a first-round shocker. Last year, the defending champion Cavs got clipped by Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, 12-10.

Different circumstances can intrude on a defending champion, whether it's a talent drop-off due to graduation losses, injuries, the presence of a hot, opposing goalie on the wrong day, or the way every opponent is inspired to take its best shot at you.

Starsia, who counts the 2000 loss to Princeton as the most painful among Virginia's four hiccups as defending champs, said the challenge to repeat almost always is heightened by internal team issues.

"The push needs to come from the inside. What's left for you to do?" he said. "You probably need to be better [this year] just to be as good as you were [last year]. I would love to have another shot at repeating."

Virginia opens the season at 1 p.m. Saturday against Drexel in Charlottesville, Va.

Penn State Facing 'Daunting Gauntlet'

Penn State is no stranger to scheduling tough, non-conference opponents. A year ago, the Nittany Lions faced North Carolina, Notre Dame, Denver and Lehigh among their first seven games, and went 1-3 against those opponents.

Penn State ended its season by losing to Drexel in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament semifinals. The Lions then agonized on Selection Sunday, as Yale upset Princeton in the Ivy League title game and effectively eliminated Penn State (9-6) from the NCAA tournament.

Fresh off its season-opening, 11-6 win at Michigan, Penn State is loading up again. Over next three weeks, it will take on Denver, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Lehigh, before jumping into CAA play against defending champion UMass in Amherst on March 16.

"That is a daunting gauntlet we're going into. You need to find out your strengths and weaknesses this time of year," said Jeff Tambroni, Penn State's third-year coach. "Since we got here [in 2010], we've increased our strength of schedule. The importance of that is pretty clear."

The Lions were consistently among the top five in Division I in SOS last season. The schedule wasn't the problem. Losses were. In 2013, Penn State needs to protect itself against a CAA tournament stumble by winning at least one or two more contests while confronting another early-season gauntlet.

With a veteran defense led by junior goalie Austin Kaut and an offense that took 57 shots against Michigan and appears improved behind junior attackman Shane Sturgis, junior midfielder Tom LaCrosse and freshman attackman T.J. Sanders — the program's first offensive player from Canada had five points at Michigan — the Lions hope to fare better in the early going.

Penn State will get another crack at Denver at 1p.m. Sunday at EverBank Field, the home of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. It's part of the Moe's Southwest Grill Classic doubleheader, also featuring Ohio State and Jacksonville at 3:15 p.m. Both games will air live on the NBC Sports Network.

North Carolina Working to Tighten Defense

If North Carolina is going to make a sharp turn and land in its first NCAA tournament final four in 20 years, the Tar Heels must tighten up on defense. For all of its offensive firepower in recent years — and Carolina averaged 12.2 goals in 2012 — it's the back-end of the operation that has doomed the Tar Heels too often.

In its six losses last spring, the 11-6 Tar Heels allowed a whopping 12.5 goals per game.

Carolina has shaken things up in an attempt to fix that glaring problem. Junior midfielder Ryan Creighton has moved from offense to defense. Sophomore Jake Bailey has won a starting job on close defense, where veteran Jordan Smith also has lost his starting job to freshman Evan Connell, whose speed and ground ball ability were too good for fifth-year coach Joe Breschi to pass up.

On top of that, freshman goalie Kieran Burke, from St. Anthony's (N.Y.) High, has beaten out incumbent and fifth-year senior Steven Rastivo.

"One of the things that was pretty clear about us last year was when we lost a lot of faceoffs [and had to play lots of defense] we struggled," Breschi said. "Our inconsistencies on defense have to be fixed."

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