October 12, 2012

30 in 30: How Does UVA Look in Post-Stanwick Era?

by Joel Censer | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Senior attackman Matt White figures to be a imporant piece of a Virginia offense that he says has "eight or nine different guys that are going to attack you and you don't know which one's coming next."
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Virginia lacrosse always has been easy to stereotype.

Horses running at midfield. Half-cyborgs handling long poles. Stop-and-go attackmen pushing the issue. Division I men's lacrosse's answer to Bigger, Stronger, Faster.

When attackman Matt White committed to the Wahoos out of Ridgefield (Conn.) High, he thought he'd continue the tradition: barnburners and breakneck pace.

"I always expected to come here and we were going to run and score 20 goals a game," he said.

Until they didn't.

With quarterback Steele Stanwick and a plethora of talented attackmen at his disposal, Virginia was built less to get up and down the field and more to grind in the half-field. Brains over brawn.

"The last couple of years, we have scored many more goals proportionately out of the settled than we did in the unsettled," offensive coordinator Marc Van Arsdale said. "Counter to our reputation, we just haven't been that good in transition."

This season, longtime offensive stalwarts Stanwick, Chris Bocklet and Colin Briggs all have graduated. With the new rules encouraging a quicker pace, and a bunch of end-to-end athletes coalescing in the middle of the field, the Cavaliers are looking to dust off the turbojets. Call it a Chris Rotelli-like revival.

"The change in personnel and the new rules come at a good time for us. We want to play in a way that the 30-second [shot clock] almost never comes on," Van Arsdale said. "We want to be a team that's attacking quickly and all the time, which is back to how we have played some in the past but gotten away from the last couple of years."

This change in style requires midfielders who can transition from defense to offense, and vice-versa. Fortunately for Wahoo fans, Chris LaPierre returns as arguably the most complete midfielder in Division I. The team's solo captain will take on an expanded offensive role this spring.

"The new rules are made for him. It's like someone said 'What would you like us to do to the game for your senior year?'" coach Dom Starsia said. "We're a team that has to be as dangerous in as many spots as we can be, and he's tough to cover because he's such a big horse. He's going to continue to do a lot of different things for us. But he's definitely going to play more offense in 2013 than his first three years combined."

The Virginia midfield has plenty of other two-way threats. All-American junior Rob Emery, who has not practiced in the fall after breaking his hand playing summer lacrosse, is a rangy Kyle Dixon clone. Bucknell transfer and graduate student Charlie Streep is still recovering from injuries after he suffered a torn ACL last year and didn't play at last Saturday's Play for Parkinson's scrimmages, but can be explosive off the dodge. Tyler German and Pat Harbeson are both athletic, versatile guys who can scrap and snipe. Maybe most intriguing, sophomore Ryan Tucker looks ready to make the leap from freshman talent to prime-time player.

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"Tucker is going to be one of the best midfielders in the country, and he's begun to assert himself this fall," Starsia said.

Virginia's long sticks also seem well suited to play fast break lacrosse. Junior Scott McWilliams and sophomore Greg Danseglio are talented checkers and stick handlers who can press to the edge of the box. Sophomore Tanner Ottenbreit may be the most transition-friendly Virginia long-stick midfielder since Trey Whitty.

In goal, redshirt sophomore Austin Geisler and freshman Dan Marino (one of Lacrosse Magazine's Freshman 15: College Rookies to Watch) were both hurt in the fall, but will compete with sophomore Rhody Heller for the starting nod in February.

While the attack does not have a headliner, the by-committee approach looks more than capable at managing all the potential odd-man rushes and quick strikes. Quarterback Nick O'Reilly returns after being suspending all of 2011. Canuck Mark Cockerton, a cagey lefty, looks reinvigorated after a down 2012. Matt White, a veteran gamer, and freshman playmaker James Pannell can turn the corner and finish around the crease. Both played some midfield at Play for Parkinson's.

Now a senior, White has seen it all during his tenure in Charlottesville. He made space for Bratton brother dodges. He caught Stanwick spot feeds. He set plenty of picks from behind. Whatever Virginia lacks in offensive star power in 2013, White believes they can make up for by being a more versatile, less predictable outfit.

"One day, and maybe it's because of the new stick rules, the way we were passing the ball was just really crisp. We were really spinning ball around the offense, and not too many people were hanging on to it for too long, so no one really monopolized the ball," White said. "It just made everything a lot more difficult on the defense. That's what you're going to see out of this Virginia team. Not as much one, two, or three guys attacking you, but eight or nine different guys that are going to attack you and you don't know which one's coming next."

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