February 18, 2012

Virginia Focuses on Lacrosse and Upsets Loyola

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com

Ainsley Baker had five goals as No. 10 Virginia opened with a 14-9 upset victory over No. 7 Loyola. (File photo)

© Matt Riley

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — A shadow cast over Charlottesville Circuit courthouse from the ongoing proceedings in the trial of George Huguely couldn’t have seemed farther away from here Saturday afternoon, as a bright sun shined over Klockner Stadium for the Virginia women’s lacrosse team’s season-opening 14-9 defeat of Loyola.

Huguely, a former Virginia lacrosse player, is being tried in the May 2010 death of on-and-off girlfriend Yeardley Love, his counterpart on the women’s team. A flag with a Cavaliers logo donning “1 Love” waved in the brisk wind, honoring Love and acknowledging her tragic death, at Klockner Stadium’s recently renovated entrance plaza as part of a facilities project.

But the roughly three miles — a distance comprising every pertinent location related to the case — separating the downtown courthouse from the campus stadium seemed more like 300 miles, as there were no suggestions Huguely’s trial was coming to a close. Only a nebulous news helicopter circling off the south side of the stadium suggested something — anything — out of the ordinary was happening just across town in a rare Saturday session. After a full day’s worth of hearings, including the case’s closing arguments, Judge Edward L. Hogshire excused the jury until Wednesday morning, according to several sources.

Virginia’s athletics staff requested that media members in attendance — no more than a handful of print and television reporters — not ask questions about the trial or circumstances surrounding it. The present press obliged.

Behind Ainsley Baker’s five-goal performance that sparked a 6-0 run after halftime, a dominating effort on draw controls (18 of 25) and stifling defense that held the Greyhounds scoreless for a nearly 30-minute stretch, No. 10 Virginia topped No. 7 Loyola.

“We played consistently well throughout. Lots of players made big plays, and we stayed composed throughout the course of the game, which was what we needed to see,” Virginia coach Julie Myers said. “At halftime, we thought the [6-5] score was a little bit tighter than it felt, and we really needed to just keep working on the little things. Just keep taking it to them.”

Baker scored three of her career-high five goals immediately after intermission. That trio of tallies was set up by fellow senior Josie Owen, a Tewaaraton Award watch list member who set a career-high with six assists.

“I was joking with coach Myers, ‘I feel like Josie knows where I am,’” Baker said. “I was joking it felt like we had a string connected to each other. It’s one of the things that has developed over the years. Obviously it worked out pretty well today.”

Extremely well. When asked if Saturday marked the best game of Baker’s career, Myers said: “One of them, for sure. We finally found a place that she can really shine. She was awesome.”

Myers moved Baker, who previously played as a stay-on attacker, into a new role for 2012. She’s running on and off the field as a midfielder, which creates transition opportunities and lets her get more chances in open space.

“I was very hesitant at first, just because I had played straight attack the last two years,” Baker said. “But now that I’m getting used to it, I feel like it opens up a lot for me and everybody else. I’m really excited about it.”

Driving down the right side of the crease, Owen found Baker four times for goals cutting toward the backdoor, a position Myers said Baker “loves.”

Outside of Baker, Virginia featured a well-balanced offensive output. Redshirt freshman Liza Blue, who didn’t play last year because of shin splits, scored twice, as did senior attacker Charlie Finnigan and freshman attacker Jess Loizeaux. Owen, Courtney Swan and Katie Slater rounded out the scoring with one apiece.

Swan scored the game- and season-opening goal less than a minute into the game, and Virginia rushed out to an early 3-1 advantage. Loyola answered with three straight unassisted scores to make it 4-3, but that was the last time the Greyhounds led. After freshman Annie Thomas tied the game at 5 with 6:24 remaining in the opening period, Loyola didn’t find the back of the net again until 20:26 had elapsed in the second half. Virginia junior goalkeeper Kim Kolarik totaled 11 saves.

Freshman attacker Hannah Schmitt paced the Greyhounds with three goals, while sophomore midfielder Marlee Paton and junior midfielder Cass Cursaro each scored twice, and freshman midfielder Molly Hulseman added one goal. Senior goalie Kerry Stoothoff made eight stops.

“We obviously know going into our season that we start with Virginia, and it’s a tough opener, but that’s how we want it to be. We want our girls to play one of the best teams in the nation off the bat,” Loyola coach Jen Adams said. “It gives us a good sense of where we’re at, and the things we need to work on going forward. For us, we found holes. We had lapses. Virginia played an extremely well-coached game. We have a young group, but today I thought they stepped up. Our veterans could have played better. But it’s early in the season, and that’s what I take away from it. There’s a lot of promise here.”

Saturday was an interesting early-season test for both teams, a matchup they’ve played each of the last three seasons. Loyola, which finished with a program-best 17 wins in 2011, had won each of the previous two meetings: 15-11 last year, 15-8 in 2010. But Virginia, coming off a 9-9 campaign that set a school season record for losses, got the best of Loyola on Saturday.

“The last couple years they’ve had our number, so to come out on top was great,” Myers said. “It was something the third- and fourth-year kids were really focused on. They wanted to make sure they had the better half of Loyola this time.”

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