UVa. perfectly poised

15-0 Cavs unfazed by role of favorite

Analysis

May 22, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT | GARY LAMBRECHT,SUN REPORTER

Here's one more thing that makes the Virginia men's lacrosse team just plain scary, as the only undefeated Division I school continues the ride that seems destined to end with the Cavaliers as the last team standing in the NCAA tournament.

Virginia, in the eyes of its coach, neither likes nor dislikes the thought of being the prohibitive favorite to win the school's fourth national championship at next weekend's final four at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The top-seeded Cavaliers, ranked No. 1 for the past two months, don't really care how they are perceived. They are too busy measuring themselves.

"I've got guys who I just don't think are all filled up with themselves. They just want to keep this thing going," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said minutes after the Cavaliers (15-0) blew away eighth-seeded Georgetown, 20-8, in yesterday's quarterfinal round at Towson University.

"Even though this is sort of the first time that we've been in this role [as the clear favorite], I don't think it's overwhelming at all to these guys. I don't think we're that impressed with ourselves. I don't think we played that well today. I'm not taking it for granted, but I think we can play better."

The Cavaliers, seeded No. 1 for the first time since 1980 and trying to become the first Division I team to run the table with a 17-0 record, might make their weekend in Philly a formality. They also might have to overcome a stern test or two to win it all, and they could see second-seeded Maryland - whom Virginia has beaten twice by a combined score of 26-10 - in the season's Memorial Day finale.

The Terps downed seventh-seeded Princeton with ease in yesterday's other quarterfinal to earn their 19th trip to the tournament semifinals overall and third in the past four seasons under coach Dave Cottle. They must take down unseeded Massachusetts to make their first title-game appearance since 1998.

The Minutemen, after winning back-to-back, one-goal games over No. 6 seed Cornell and No. 3 seed Hofstra, are headed to the big stage for the first time.

Saturday's semifinal rematch between Virginia and fifth-seeded Syracuse has all the makings of a high-scoring classic. What a promotional tool for the sport. Both teams love to play uptempo. Both teams are loaded with scoring threats. The over-under on this should be 30 goals.

On March 4 in Charlottesville, Virginia took a wild, 20-15 decision, during which both starting goalies got pulled and defense was an afterthought. Since then, the Cavs have tightened up their defense considerably.

Syracuse is headed to its 24th semifinal and is curiously the tournament's comeback story. The Orange missed the final four last year for the first time after 22 straight trips. Then, the team lost starting midfielders Greg Rommel and Steven Brooks in this season's first two weeks, stumbling to a 1-4 start.

The Orange is young, but has gotten quite well. Saturday's 13-12 win over defending national champion Johns Hopkins, during which Syracuse overcame an 8-for-29 faceoff performance by running stretches of great offense and riding a 16-save day from redshirt freshman goalie Peter Coluccini, was the ninth straight victory for the Orange (10-4).

It will be interesting to see if Syracuse can control the faceoff game and the middle of the field enough to give great shooters such as senior attackmen Brett Bucktooth and Joe Yevoli and freshman attackman Mike Leveille chances to score with the Cavaliers.

UMass has a tremendous scorer in senior attackman Sean Morris and an outstanding faceoff specialist in senior Jake Deane. But the Minutemen, who have never played in front of a crowd expected to exceed 45,000, figure to have their hands full against a balanced, seasoned Maryland team that brings a proven defense and an offense that is on a roll.

The Terps have won six of their past seven games, and have scored in double figures in each victory, while holding all six opponents in single digits. Their offense no longer relies mainly on Joe Walters and Xander Ritz. They are loose and confident, and with hot scorers such as midfielders Brendan Healy opening up the attack with their athleticism, Maryland might think it can hang with the Cavaliers now.

Then again, the Terps probably will need around 20 saves from junior goalie Harry Alford to bring home the school's first NCAA title since 1975.

"We started being a good team when the players started managing the game more than the coaches. The best teams are the ones with leaders on the field," Cottle said. "Last year, we were happy to get to the final four [an 18-9 loss to Duke]. This year, we want to win some games."

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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