Mark Koontz's health hung over Virginia's preseason preparation. Because the senior defenseman ignored a doctor's recommendation, the Cavaliers' prognosis gets stronger with every game.
Third-ranked Virginia is at home Saturday (3 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) against top-ranked Johns Hopkins. Both teams have been uplifted by freshmen, and the Cavaliers got another unanticipated boost when Koontz returned to their lineup March 2. Virginia lost to Syracuse, but Koontz was a steadying influence as Virginia defeated Princeton, Notre Dame and Towson in a span of eight days.
A first-team All-American in 2001, Koontz was primed for a big senior season, but the conclusion to his college career was clouded last Dec. 1, when Virginia gathered to mark the end of fall practice. Playing touch football, Koontz fractured and dislocated his left wrist. An Atlantic Coast Conference honor roll member who studies in Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce, Koontz interned last summer with a leading Wall Street firm.
"Mark didn't go to the [United States] World Team tryouts because he was working for Goldman Sachs," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "He's going to work for them full time, and he's not the kind of kid who was going to wait around a year for the chance to play as a fifth-year senior. He's got a 3.7 GPA. This was it for him. That was part of his decision to come back, against doctor's orders."
Koontz did not practice with the Cavaliers until Feb. 26. Four days later, Starsia planned to give him some spot duty against Syracuse. He played the last 40 minutes and cooled off Josh Coffman. The first time he got a stick on the ball, Koontz made a lengthy clear, shot and hit a pipe. That's with a cast that covers his thumb and forearm.
"We cut the palm out of a glove, and it's taped to his cast," Starsia said. "Technically, Mark's wearing an illegal glove, and we have to make sure the officials see it before every game. His stick handling has obviously suffered, but in some ways, the situation has improved his technique. He can't get into hand-to-hand combat with people, so he has to be more adept at cutting off an avenue to the goal than he was in the past."
Koontz, who's from Upper Arlington, Ohio, limited Ryan Obloj to two assists in Sunday's 13-8 win over Towson. The Cavaliers are in the middle of a brutal stretch in which eight of their nine games are against Top 10 teams. The ninth was against Notre Dame, which went to the Final Four last year. Starsia is using six freshmen, including Joe Yevoli and John Christmas on attack.
Player of the week
P.J. DiConza, Johns Hopkins. The senior defenseman had another solid performance when he limited Syracuse's Mike Powell to the second one-point game of his career. In the opener, DiConza kept Princeton's Ryan Boyle without a point in the first 59 minutes.
Game of the week
No. 2 Syracuse at No. 6 Princeton, Saturday, 1 p.m.The Orangemen and Tigers have won 12 of the past 14 NCAA championships. Syracuse hasn't forgotten last Memorial Day, when B.J. Prager's overtime goal gave Princeton the title. The Orangemen paid for a late letdown at Hopkins. Princeton (1-2) has entered April with three losses just once since 1988, Bill Tierney's first season.
Sunday's report on the Hopkins-Syracuse game contained two errors. Brian Nee is the Boys' Latin product whose family provided hospitality for the Orangemen last Friday. When the Blue Jays beat Hofstra, Adam Doneger got the game-winner. ... The proposal to expand the Division I field from 12 to 16 teams hasn't been reviewed by an NCAA budget committee.