February 26, 2012

Virginia Slows Syracuse; Off to Best Start Since 2009

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Related: Live Blog Replay

Kim Kolarik made 10 saves Sunday to help Virginia down Syracuse, 9-7, and improve to 3-0.
© Matt Riley 

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- With a measured pace and a 10-save performance from junior goalkeeper Kim Kolarik, the tenth-ranked Virginia Cavaliers earned a 9-7 win over the No. 12 Syracuse Orange before a crowd of 1,011 at Klockner Stadium.

Freshman midfielder Liza Blue led all scorers with three goals, and Virginia's patient defense took away Syracuse's lethal inside shots. The Cavaliers are now 3-0, their best start since 2009.

"We thought every possession was going to count, and sure enough it did. We needed to take some of the air out of the ball because they are super fast," said Virginia head coach Julie Myers.

Syracuse, coming off a 23-12 win over Boston College on Feb. 21, shot early and often, climbing to a 2-1 lead at 21:30 in the first half on a free position goal by Kailah Kempney (two goals). A 13:56 scoring drought followed Kempney's goal, during which the teams traded possessions and battled to control the pace of the game.

Then Kolarik sparked a three-goal run by the Cavaliers when she made a great save and cleared the ball to junior midfielder Julie Gardner (one goal, one assist) who fed Blue for her first goal of the day. Freshman Morgan Stephens scored on a free position 1:12 later, and Blue added her own free position goal to give Virginia a 4-2 advantage late in the first half.

Once they were up, the Cavaliers never relinquished the lead. The defense allowed the Orange to come to them, rather than challenging Syracuse's fast-dodging attackers.

"We were switching on the picks and flips, because we know they like to do that. I think our defense did an awesome job," said Blue.

Blue, a redshirt freshman, is one of five underclassmen in Virginia's starting lineup, and all six true freshmen have either started or played significant minutes in the Cavaliers first three games. Freshman defender Daniela Eppler led the team with four draw controls and helped hold All-American attacker Michelle Tumolo to zero points. Myers said the freshman class's steep learning curve has been a huge factor in the team's strong start.

"They've been monsters. I don't know that we're 3-0 without our first-year class. I can't believe Daniela Eppler is only three games into her college career," said Myers.

Syracuse, also a young team, struggled to find good shots. Webster and sophomore attacker Alyssa Murray combined for two goals on 10 shots, and Tumolo was 0-for-5. The Orange showed some spark late, scoring back-to-back fast-break goals to bring the score to 9-7 with 5:40, left but Syracuse was unable to get any closer.

The Orange also committed 25 fouls, and Virginia scored five times on eight free position shots. The Orange has been platooning in goal this season, with sophomore Alyssa Constantino (two saves) starting and freshman Kelsey Richardson (one save) coming in after halftime.

"We've just got to be ready to play on the road. This is a young team and they have to step up and make plays under pressure, and there's more pressure when you're on the road," said Orange head coach Gary Gait, whose team hosts top-ranked Northwestern on Wednesday.

In addition to her 10 saves, Kolarik led the Cavaliers with five ground balls. The second-year starting goaltender was buoyant at the prospect of Virginia's strongest February in years.

"It's an awesome start to have. We're just so excited to go down to Maryland and start our ACC schedule," said Kolarik. "Everyone's putting 100 percent in every practice every day. I'm so excited for the rest of the season. It'll be a bunch and zero for the rest of the season. We're going all the way."

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