Virginia coach Dom Starsia has always hedged a little over talk of parity in college lacrosse, but he is slowly crossing over.
Lacrosse is becoming more like the NFL. There are consistent winners every year, but the team that gets hot at the end has a good shot at winning the title.
No. 3 Duke is on the comeback trail after a slow start. No. 12 Johns Hopkins had a strong rebound performance against Virginia a week ago. And the No. 13 Cavaliers (5-4) don't have a signature win all season.
They have to get on a roll soon, preferably Saturday when they host No. 5 Maryland (7-1).
"I do think maybe there is a little change going on," Starsia said. "Teams that are getting better at the end of the season have a better chance in May.
"You look a Maryland, and clearly they were the No. 1 team early on and better than everyone else. You wondered if that was a little too early to peak? Then Maryland gets off knocked and you figure they might be recalibrating. I just keep telling my kids that they are still in the hunt, they have a chance and can control their own destiny."
That's why Maryland will have such a tough assignment. The Cavaliers were embarrassed by Hopkins, 15-8, last Saturday. After the Terps game, Virginia still has to play Duke and No. 4 North Carolina.
The Cavaliers have to win Saturday. They have to get hot. Last year, little Loyola rode the momentum of the regular season into the playoffs and to a national championship.
For the Cavaliers, Maryland could serve as the spark. Starsia doesn't have to travel far back in time to prove a point. He won one of his four NCAA titles at Virginia in 2011 when the Cavaliers became the first five-loss team and lowest national seed (No. 7) to win the championship.
After jumping out to a 7-1 record that year, the Cavaliers lost four of their next five, and Starsia had to handle disciplinary issues with star players, Rhamel and Shamel Bratton.
The Cavaliers re-invented themselves, went on a run and beat Maryland in the title game.
"You look at Duke this season, and they were put on a pile of junk," Starsia said. "Then they beat Loyola, North Carolina and Towson, and now they've become a playoff team. In 2011, we were stumbling and bumbling for a while before we got our ducks back inline again.
"We have recent examples, and enough guys left from that 2011 team, to know that anything is possible. We have three conference games in a row, so we just have to take it one game at a time to gather that momentum."
It's not that Virginia has been that bad. Three of its four losses have been by one goal — to Syracuse, Cornell and Ohio State. The Cavaliers have outscored opponents 111 to 91 and outshot them 231 to 172, but they haven't played complete games.
They also have had problems adjusting to life without All-American attackman Steele Stanwick, who graduated, and senior midfielder Christian LaPierre, who is out for the season with a lower extremity issue after playing just three games.
Of the 10 starters in the field for Virginia, only one is a senior, midfielder Matt White (15 goals, six assists). LaPierre is perhaps the best at his position in the college game.
"I really don't like talking about him because we have kids trying to replace him and they are doing their best," Starsia said. "But when you lose as many one-goal games as we have, you know not having the best midfielder in the game would make a difference. He has a presence and he could get your attention in the huddle and on the sideline."
Maryland's midfield will present many problems for the Cavaliers. The Terps' first group of middies are the best in the game. They have a great shooter in Mike Chanenchuk. Jake Bernhardt is the prototype alley dodger. And John Haus can strike from anywhere on the field as a scorer, or he can create and assist.
For Starsia, that's only part of the problem. Any time a team plays Maryland, it has to win its share of face-offs. Starsia would like for the Cavaliers to be more selective and efficient on offense.
"We need to play a complete game," Starsia said. "When things are going well, everything seems like a major disaster. I'm usually a big picture guy, but we can't be that way now. It's all about one game at a time. I still get nervous before games and I'm much better after them than before them. Actually, I dread when the sun goes down before games because of the anxious moments, but I still love what I do. We still have a shot, and that's the message I've been putting out this week."
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