February 12, 2014

Richmond Spiders Jump Right In to Division I Fray

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

Richmond Spiders coach Dan Chemotti is preparing his bunch of new challenges. "We had 15 months to prepare for Virginia," he said. "Now, we've got seven days to get ready for Hartford."

No matter what happened in the first half of the first Division I game in school history, the Richmond Spiders knew this much. They would return to their locker room for the halftime break to regroup and make adjustments in a game that counted. And that would constitute yet another brand new experience.

It just so happened during Saturday's season opener that the Spiders — who, under first-year head coach Dan Chemotti, dressed 22 freshmen on the 36-man roster that welcomed the University of Virginia to Robins Stadium — surprised themselves as much as the Cavaliers during the first 30 minutes of lacrosse history.

There was Richmond, on the strength of 9-for-16 shooting and nine saves by freshman goalie Conor Shannon, holding a 9-8 edge over big, bad UVA. Yes, Virginia, owner of four NCAA titles under coach Dom Starsia, there is a new kid in your state, and he meant business.

"We really didn't know what to expect. There were a lot of unknowns going into that game," Chemotti said. "One thing I knew was that we were going to play hard. We were just trying to manage situations and manage the moments. That [halftime] was one of them.

"We just wanted our guys to keep their composure, and they got a taste of what a win might look like. The truth is Virginia had not seen any tape of us, because there was nothing to see. They probably didn't know 90 percent of our roster. We're trying to use our obscurity to our advantage."

Of course, there was no magic in the Richmond air. No. 9 Virginia, with all its tradition and pedigree and talent, found a way to regroup and pull out a 13-12 victory. That's what storied programs should do against such inexperienced opponents.

But two days after an exhilarating, season-opening, 14-13 overtime win over visiting Loyola, the Cavaliers came out flat and got hit in the face with some ice water by giving up seven unanswered, first-half Richmond goals. Then, UVA responded and dragged home a forgettable victory, after grinding through a second half during which the Cavs never led by more than two goals.

In the end, Richmond behaved more like a newcomer should. The Spiders committed 25 turnovers and were out-shot, 46-24. That negated their 50 percent shooting and the faceoff stalemate they achieved.

But Saturday was all about a new beginning for the Spiders. It was all about another new school announcing its presence in an expanding college sports landscape. It was about a Spiders program creating a new era with eight scholarships divided among its roster, which featured nine sophomores and five juniors.

It was about Chemotti launching an operation he took over shortly after capping a five-year run as an assistant at Loyola. There, as offensive coordinator, he played a huge role in the Greyhounds' 18-1 season that ended on Memorial Day 2012 with the school's only Division I national title in any sport.

And it was about a core of freshmen who could lay the groundwork for something special in the years to come at Richmond, which will compete in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Players such as attackman Mitch Goldberg, long-stick midfielder Brendan Hynes and defenseman Ryan Dennis are both the present and immediate future for the Spiders.

On Saturday, Hynes, who turned down Rutgers to come south, led the Spiders' rope unit. Dennis guarded Virginia attackman Mark Cockerton well enough to limit him to two goals. Goldberg assisted fellow freshman Dan Ginestro on Richmond's first-ever varsity goal, then went on to record the first hat trick in school history.

"We made it clear to the freshmen in the fall that it didn't matter that they were freshmen. They were going to be getting all of the reps [in practice], more reps that most freshmen are around the country," said Chemotti, who plans to split the goalie job between Shannon and freshman Benny Pugh.

"We told them to show up after the holidays and don't act like freshmen anymore," he added. "They are responding to that. [Success] doesn't have to take as long as people expect."

Chemotti, a 2002 graduate of Duke, where he helped the Blue Devils win back-to-back, ACC titles and make it to three NCAA tournament quarterfinal games, knows the growing pains will sting at times. He also is certain that Richmond, with its ideal location, facilities and academic strength, is the perfect breeding ground for success as the Spiders gain more scholarship funding in the coming years.

There is the long-term, big picture, and there is short-term reality. The fact is, the Spiders are in the Division I water now with an undermanned roster and a 0-1 record, and with Hartford coming in on Saturday. After that, 12 more regular-season games follow.

"We had 15 months to prepare for Virginia," he said. "Now, we've got seven days to get ready for Hartford."

But, as Virginia found out, the Spiders most definitely are here.

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