Gill's record 9 assists give Virginia a winning hand

Christmas' goal sends Cavs over Cornell, 11-10

College Lacrosse

May 20, 2002|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The University of Virginia lacrosse team had its share of obstacles to overcome yesterday in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. The Cavaliers had not played in 19 days, have been shaky in the faceoff circle all year, and were going against the nation's top-ranked defense from Cornell.

But the Cavaliers had a pretty good defense of their own to offer, and they had a most seasoned weapon in senior attackman Conor Gill.

Gill, one of the game's top passers throughout his career, abused the Big Red with one goal and a tournament-record nine assists, and freshman attackman John Christmas broke a personal, 56-minute scoreless drought with the game-winning goal with 3:59 left to lift Virginia to a tense, 11-10 victory before 7,468 at Homewood Field.

The Cavaliers (11-3), who got four goals from freshman attackman Joe Yevoli and three from junior midfielder Chris Rotelli, nearly let an 8-3 lead go to waste in the second half, but earned a victory that sends them into Saturday's national semifinal round against second-seeded Syracuse at Rutgers Stadium.

It marks Virginia's third trip to the tournament's final four in the past four years. The Cavaliers won the NCAA crown in 1999.

"I've always said the quarterfinal is a bear of a game. This one played out like the rest of the others," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, alluding to the fact that, for the first time in NCAA history, each quarterfinal contest was decided by a single goal.

"At 8-3, I thought we were in pretty good shape. I thought we were in control. Our confidence got a little shook. We talked about taking a couple of deep breaths during a couple of timeouts. The key was to take what [Cornell] gave us, and they gave Conor room and time today."

The sixth-seeded Big Red (11-4), bidding for its first final four trip since 1988, gave the Cavaliers plenty of trouble.

Cornell defenseman Tim DeBlois brilliantly covered Christmas, one of the game's bright young talents and the Cavaliers' second-leading scorer. Big Red goalie Justin Cynar matched Virginia's Tillman Johnson with 10 saves. Cornell held the ball for long stretches by winning 16 of 25 faceoffs. Both teams stood toe-to-toe in a physical contest that featured a host of nasty body checks.

What Cornell failed to do was to disrupt Gill, who exploited the Big Red's sagging defense and took advantage of the room Cornell defenseman Ryan McClay allowed him to operate.

"They just kept collapsing like a zone. The [passing] lanes were open, and I saw our guys pretty early," said Gill, a St. Paul's graduate who finished with a career-high 10 points. "It wasn't anything special I did today. Give credit to our shooters. They were the ones who made it happen."

The Cavaliers made their scoring opportunities count in the crunch, converting half of their 10 shots in the second half. And their only goal all day without any of Gill's fingerprints on it was the game-winner by Christmas, who slipped a Cornell defender on the crease, where Yevoli found him two minutes after Big Red attackman Sean Greenhalgh had tied the game at 10.

Virginia, which lost senior All-America defenseman Mark Koontz to a season-ending knee injury last month, held Cornell without a shot over the final four minutes. The Big Red committed a turnover after calling a timeout with 1:40 left. Then, with 20 seconds to go, after the Cavaliers had turned the ball over for the second time in the final two minutes, Big Red attackman Scott Lee was stripped by defender David Burman.

The Big Red erupted for three goals in a span of 1:02 to cut the lead to 8-6 with 4:49 to go in the third quarter. Cornell closed the gap to 8-7 with 14:10 left in the game, and tied the score twice, before fading in the end.

"I'm awfully proud of the way our kids fought back. But you have to make plays consistently against a team of Virginia's caliber," Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said. "We didn't do that."

Cornell 1 2 3 4 - 10

Virginia 2 4 2 3 - 11

Goals: C-McClay 2, Greenhalgh 2, Fort 2, Beers, Lee, Schalk, Rosenberger; V- Yevoli 4, Rotelli 3, Gill, Shannon, Glading, Christmas. Assists: C-Sollog, Fort, Schalk, Redd, Collins; V- Gill 9, Yevoli. Saves: C-Cynar 10; V-Johnson 10.

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