The long haul is barely underway, but Virginia appears to be Virginia once again.
One year after suffering through its first losing season in 17 years and missing the NCAA tournament as a result, the school that won the national championship in 2003 is on familiar ground.
By becoming the first visitors ever to win back-to-back games at the Carrier Dome, where the Cavaliers (3-0) edged No. 4 Syracuse in a 12-11 thriller last week, No. 2 Virginia has served notice about where it intends to be in late May.
The Cavaliers are getting balanced scoring on offense, have found a new goalie in sophomore Kip Turner, and have solved the chemistry problems that grew during last spring's 5-8 stumble.
"We're having fun, and that's the key to us playing well," said junior attackman Matt Ward, who leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and two assists. "So far, everyone is playing for the team instead of themselves, which didn't always happen last year."
It's happening again for Virginia, which has nine different players with at least four points, meaning the Cavaliers look to be in good shape even with senior attackman Joe Yevoli expected to redshirt with a back injury. Senior attackman John Christmas, who suffered through a miserable 2004 season with a groin injury, has eight points, is healthy again and is drawing the opponent's best defenseman.
That has opened up the scoring for teammates such as junior midfielder Kyle Dixon (Archbishop Spalding), who appears headed for a breakout year and leads the Cavs with seven assists.
Junior midfielder Matt Poskay has nine goals on 50 percent shooting, and freshman attackman Ben Rubeor (Loyola), who suffered a sprained ankle and is doubtful for Saturday's game against visiting Princeton, has two goals and six assists.
The Cavs might have turned the corner with Turner in the cage. After alternating Turner with freshman Michael Petit and giving them one half each in Virginia's first two games, Cavs coach Dom Starsia settled on Turner. He made his second career start at Syracuse, then shut down the Orange with 18 saves.
"[Turner] didn't touch the first two shots [Syracuse goals]. Then he settled down and got a couple [of saves]. He's a pretty resilient kid," Starsia said. "We still have some question marks that have yet to be fully answered. But we're in a different place. We can look back [to a year ago] and see how it was."
Navy looking good
Navy is still in the early stages of proving it belongs once again among the game's elite, but the signs are compelling. Through a 3-0 start, the third-ranked Midshipmen are playing great defense and dominating the faceoff game, and the offense hardly looks like a weak link.
Junior attackman Jon Birsner (seven assists) is showing exceptional field vision again, and junior midfielder Steve Looney (team-high nine goals) is emerging as a scoring star.
But the Mids are choking opponents by stuffing them at the defensive end and hogging the ball. Senior Chris Pieczonka has won 67.3 percent of his faceoff attempts, and the defense, led by sophomore goalie Matt Russell and senior defensemen Mitch Hendler and Mike Felber, has allowed only 55 shots in three games.
The Mids made a statement by limiting No. 9 North Carolina to 19 shots in last week's 9-6 win.
"The personnel has changed," said senior attackman Ben Horn, who has four goals and one assist. "Attitude-wise, we've taken off from where we left off."
UMBC coming up short
The UMBC Retrievers had another close call with a bad ending Tuesday, when they crept to within one goal of top-ranked Johns Hopkins midway through the fourth quarter, only to lose, 9-6. That dropped UMBC to 0-3 for the first time in 20 years.
The Retrievers have lost to Hopkins, No. 6 Maryland and No. 19 Ohio State by a combined six goals.
"I'm the one who set the schedule. I hate to lose, and this team hates to lose. All I look for is effort," UMBC coach Don Zimmerman said.
The week ahead
No. 1 Hopkins (2-0)
Schedule: vs. Hofstra, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Blue Jays have won 28 straight at home, and that streak should not be jeopardized. Hopkins has beaten the unranked Pride four consecutive times and is 14-for-16 against Hofstra overall.
No. 3 Navy (3-0)
Schedule: at Bucknell, Saturday, 1 p.m.; vs. Lafayette, Tuesday, noon
Skinny: The Mids are allowing barely 18 shots per game, have found a new offensive star in junior midfielder Steve Looney, and have outscored their first three opponents, including No. 9 North Carolina, by a combined 29-13. Now it's time to beat up the Patriot League.
No. 6 Maryland (1-1)
Schedule: at No. 11 Towson, Saturday, 1 p.m.; at Bucknell, Tuesday, 3 p.m.
Skinny: The Terps in general had serious trouble finding the net against Duke last week, but not junior attackman Joe Walters. After producing his first hat trick of the season, Maryland's scoring machine already has four goals and four assists.
No. 11 Towson (3-0)
Schedule: vs. No. 6 Maryland, Saturday, 1 p.m; vs. No. 13 Rutgers, Tuesday, 7 p.m.