Top of the heap

No. 1 Cavs use second-half run to capture title, cap 17-0 season

Virginia 15 Massachusetts 7

NCAA Lacrosse Championship


PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe their march to perfection started on this same field a year ago, when Johns Hopkins broke their hearts in an overtime thriller. Maybe the Virginia men's lacrosse team limped out of Lincoln Financial Field galvanized by that crushing loss in the national semifinals, knowing this edition of the Cavaliers, led by a driven senior class, would make things turn out differently this spring.

From the opening weeks of the 2006 season, it was clear that Virginia had something special going for it, starting with an offense that was all about sharing and shooting the ball better than anyone else.

Yesterday in the NCAA championship game, whether it was attackman Matt Ward and midfielder Matt Poskay each scoring five goals, or Drew Thompson and Charlie Glazer dominating the faceoff game, or defenseman Michael Culver stuffing the Minutemen's best scorer, the Cavaliers once again had all the answers.

And after top-seeded Virginia put down unseeded Massachusetts with a patented second-half run, then cruised to a 15-7 rout before a record title-game crowd of 47,062, the Cavaliers could breathe a sigh of satisfaction after finishing what it had started.

Virginia became the first school in NCAA Division I men's lacrosse history to win a national championship by finishing undefeated with a 17-0 record.

"It's been a joy to ride this, maybe since the moment we stepped off the field last year," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "This team, as much as any I've been a part of, has taken a lead from the older guys. They're a respectful bunch, a thoughtful group. They've been committed to this from the very beginning and never wavered. As a coach, that's what you hope to be able to create.

"It's a little overwhelming to hear some of those statistics about our team. The whole thing kind of snuck up on us a little bit. For us to come into the tournament and win out the way we were expected to is a very special moment for our program."

To watch Virginia grind down the determined Minutemen (13-5) in the stifling heat and humidity was to watch a talent-rich squad armed with a single-minded, blue-collar sense of purpose. The Cavaliers, who fought some shaky shooting and a tenacious UMass defense early on, got the battle they anticipated from an opponent that had upset three of the tournament's top six seeds to get here for the first time.

But after UMass, despite long stretches without the ball, trailed only 5-4 at halftime, then pulled within 7-6 on a goal in close by senior midfielder Jamie Yaman with 7:59 left in the third quarter, Virginia found that gear it always finds at some point.

And it came mainly from the seniors, starting with Ward and Poskay, who by themselves combined to outscore the Minutemen.

The game's decisive sequence began after Yaman's goal, when Poskay - after a slashing call on UMass defenseman Jack Reid on the ensuing faceoff - blew a high, 10-yard shot past UMass freshman goalie Doc Schneider (17 saves) from the extreme left wing. That extra-man goal made it 8-6 with 7:29 left in the quarter.

With that, Schneider began to fade after a brilliant first half. UMass faceoff man Jake Deane was staggering in the heat, while losing a two-against-one battle to Thompson and Glazer, who combined to win 15 of 25 draws. And the Cavaliers were off on a 6-0 run that blew the game open.

Poskay scored three times and Ward twice during the run. Ward finished it with an 8-yarder to give Virginia a commanding 13-6 lead with 9:37 left in the game.

"I think it's kind of an unspoken bond between the senior kids. We had the confidence to look each other in the eye," said Ward, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a record 16 goals in Virginia's four victories. "When [UMass] was making a run on us, we needed to stop that and go on a run of our own. I think that was kind of a characteristic of this team all year."

Said UMass coach Greg Cannella: "They are such a great shooting team. I don't chalk anything up to our mistakes. I chalk it up to Virginia. They're 17-0, and they've been very consistent, just like they were today."

The Cavaliers had it all covered. The nation's top offense ran its motion sets and passed patiently against a good UMass zone defense, and Virginia pushed the ball in transition effectively with the help of its underrated defense. Culver, the senior All-American, put the clamps on UMass senior All-America attackman Sean Morris, rarely giving him a shooting chance. Morris was held to two assists.

Virginia outshot the Minutemen 55-31, did not fail on 18 clearing attempts, converted on all three of its extra-man chances, and assisted on 11 of its 15 goals. Thompson, the junior midfielder, and freshman attackman Danny Glading had three assists each.

With the exception of two behind-the-shoulder goals by Poskay, the Cavaliers weren't flashy. They imposed their will, asserted their talent, and lived up to this team's simple motto - "Harder."

"Somebody asked me if this was one of the greatest teams ever," Poskay said. "I do know it's the hardest-working team I've ever been on."

Massachusetts 1 3 2 1 - 7

Virginia 4 1 6 4 - 15

Goals: M-Larmon, Yaman, Deane, Stabert, Garber, Connolly, Pedrick; V-Ward 5, Poskay 5, Rubeor 2, Dixon 2, Glading. Assists: M-Morris 2, Deane, Larmon, Yaman; V-Glading 3, Thompson 3, Rubeor 2, Billings, Dixon, Smith. Saves: M-Schneider 17; V-Turner 6, Petit. A: 47,062.

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