For Adam Ghitelman, getting better meant treating his body better.
In an effort to help bring a national championship to Virginia, the senior goalkeeper is routinely getting eight hours of sleep each night and is eating healthier.
"Sometimes that gets away from you when you're in college," Ghitelman said of taking care of his body. "These changes in my lifestyle have definitely been positive for me."
Ghitelman will find out how positive those changes were on Saturday when the seventh-seeded Cavaliers meet sixth-seeded Denver in the first NCAA tournament semifinal at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Appearing in his third consecutive Final Four, Ghitelman is the most successful goalie among his peers at this stage of the tournament. But the knock on Ghitelman is that he has been unable to propel Virginia to its first title game since 2006.
The lack of success in the semifinals is not lost on Ghitelman.
"It's definitely something that I think about," he said. "I've had the opportunity to be a part of some really good teams that have made it this far, but haven't really taken that extra step."
In 2009, the Cavaliers were the top-seeded team in the tournament, but ran into a Cornell squad that scored eight goals in the first half en route to a 15-6 thumping. The following season, Virginia, top-seeded again, dropped a 14-13 decision to Duke.
ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said Ghitelman is not to blame for those setbacks.
"I don't think Virginia has won or lost these games based on the performances of Adam Ghitelman," said Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins midfielder. "I think a lot of that has to do with the way his defense played. They used to leave him exposed a lot."
Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia admitted that the team's defensive strategy of extending its pressure to the perimeter can at times leave the goalkeeper vulnerable. But rather than be frustrated, Ghitelman said he supports that strategy.
"That's why I chose to come here," the Cold Spring, N.Y., native said. "I was well aware of the type of defense that we play here, that I'd be put in a position where I'd have to come up big for our defense, which does take a lot of risks. But it's actually been a lot more fun and a lot more humbling for me. I'm never going to be the guy with the highest save percentage in the country because we do take a lot of risks and sometimes you are left on an island a little bit. But that's something that's made me work a lot harder and stay motivated for my whole time here."
Ghitelman is the first to acknowledge that he places the burden of the defense's performance on himself. While applauding his player's sacrifice, Starsia said he's been trying to get his goalie to lighten up.
"He has a tendency to get down on himself a little bit and just kind of be emotional in general," Starsia said. "So I see my task with Adam as trying to get him to relax a little bit. I think he puts a lot on his own shoulders. We're not an easy team to be a goalie for. But we sort of had to re-tool in the middle of the season, and I think he has settled down a little bit."
Since a season-ending shoulder injury to redshirt junior Matt Lovejoy sapped Virginia of its best defenseman, the unit has gone to a zone. Ghitelman's numbers this season (9.81 goals-against average and .532 save percentage) would be the worst of his career since his freshman year, but he said the zone defense is allowing him to see more shots from the outside and gives the team its best chance to capture the program's fifth NCAA title.
"We have an opportunity to do something great," Ghitelman said. "You're going to let in goals and you're not going to have a perfect day, but if I'm light in my head and light on my feet, I think that will definitely serve me better."