Feb. 11, 1998

UVA Men's Lacrosse Outlook

It is the dawn of a new era for Virginia lacrosse. Gone are two-time first-team All-Americans Doug Knight and Michael Watson, 1998 World Team middie David Curry, and two-year captain and defensive stalwart Tommy Smith. Establishing themselves as four of the greatest players in school history, they joined a senior class that accounted for a school-record 631 career points.Into their places step some new, young players not so much to fill the void as to be ready to make their own marks in the lacrosse world.

Yet, while the 1998 Cavaliers will certainly look and play differently than recent UVa teams, sixth-year head coach Dom Starsia says: “Our season-long goals remain as lofty as ever. There is enough experience and talent on this year’s team to be a serious contender for both the ACC Tournament and NCAA titles.

”Virginia came away with one of those two coveted prizes in 1997, winning its first-ever ACC Tournament as part of a 10-game winning streak. During that run, UVa posted wins over playoff teams Massachusetts, Johns Hopkins, Duke (twice) and Maryland. Finishing 11-3 overall (3-0 ACC), the Cavaliers led the nation in scoring for the second consecutive season.

After advancing to the NCAA Final Four each of the previous three seasons, however, second-seeded Virginia fell to Maryland 10-9 on the Terps’ home field in the 1997 NCAA quarterfinals.In order to play championship-caliber lacrosse again this spring, Virginia will have to reload at least partially on offense while matching or surpassing last year’s solid defensive effort.

Standing between UVa and its high aspirations is a brutal schedule that includes home tilts vs. Syracuse, Mercyhurst, Princeton, Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins, as well as road games with Massachusetts and Maryland—all before April 1. It is a schedule, according to Starsia, that is designed to “test this young team early and provide the competition to harden them as postseason play approaches.” April doesn’t get any easier. In addition to hosting the 1998 ACC Tournament (April 17 & 19), Virginia plays 1997 NCAA semifinalist Duke, Patriot League power Bucknell and ACC rival North Carolina before hopefully gearing up for a run at the national title.

Following is a preseason analysis of the 1998 Cavaliers:

ATTACK
The 1998 attack unit misses two of the biggest guns in UVa lacrosse history with the departure of Doug Knight and Michael Watson. Now a UVa assistant coach, Knight is Virginia’s all-time leading scorer with 249 career points (165 goals, 84 assists). Watson ranks third on UVa’s career scoring list with 240 points (142 goals, 98 assists). Knight and Watson finished first and second in scoring, respectively, on last year’s team. Starsia, however, has some sturdy talent with which to reload. Rookies in 1997, Drew McKnight and Jay Jalbert should combine to form a potent power punch behind the goal. Each can be expected to contribute a lot this year, primarily as a dodger (Jalbert) and as a feeder (McKnight). McKnight started every game last season and was Virginia’s third-leading scorer with 42 points (22 goals, 20 assists). He had a 2+4=6 day last year against Syracuse and scored the winning goal in a 15-14 double-overtime victory over Maryland. Jalbert was equally impressive last season, finishing with 23 points (19 goals, four assists) from the midfield. He tossed in four goals in last year’s season opener against Syracuse and had a 3+3=6 day in UVa’s 17-14 win at Duke. Add to that mix junior co-captain Tucker Radebaugh (24+11=35), and Cavalier fans have some great talent to watch. Radebaugh spent his first two seasons at UVa running with the first midfield—earning honorable mention All-America honors in 1997—but had a lot of attack experience in prep school.

Among Virginia’s other highly-regarded attack players are: third-year David Bruce (11+4=15, including 4+2=6 vs. VMI), who is coming off a steady, consistent fall season, and rookies Ian Shure (Boy’s Latin School) and Jamison Mullen (St. Mary’s High School). Shure offers good moves and quick feet, while Jamison hails from one of Maryland’s top programs in 1997. Third-year Mark Murphy (7+5=12, including 4+4=8 vs. VMI) moves from the midfield, bringing size and strong moves to the goal. This position is young by recent UVa standards, but it is filled with fine talent and willing hands. “There are plenty of young, exciting faces on attack,” says Starsia. “With Tucker’s and Jay’s previous midfield experience, it may be that the offensive combinations keep changing.”

MIDFIELD
At midfield, there are the usual talented returnees with the only question being how to mix and match the units. One unit likely will include seniors Drew Melchionni and David Wren, and freshman Hanley Holcomb. Registering 12 goals and seven assists in 1997, Melchionni is a truly gifted defensive middie with a potent scoring punch. He has earned honorable mention All-America recognition each of the last two seasons. Wren scored 32 points (26 goals, six assists) and earned second-team All-America honors in 1997 to highlight a remarkable breakthrough season. Joining Radebaugh as a 1998 co-captain, he offers substantial heavyweight power and an overwhelming shot. Holcomb (Salisbury School) adds nice size and a wide range of skills.

A putative second unit is loaded, with juniors Henry Oakey and Michael Leahy, and sophomore Jason Hard. Possessing a stinging shot and an important overall range of talent, Oakey was red-shirted last season with a severe knee injury after scoring 37 points (23 goals, 12 assists) in 1996. Hard, named the 1997 ACC Rookie of the Year, scored five goals and won 176 of 285 faceoffs (61.8 percent) last season. He returns as one of the country’s top artists at the draw in 1998. Leahy contributed four goals and three assists in 1997.A third midfield unit could be sophomore Bruce Townsend (2+0=2), junior Jamie Leachman (4+3=7) and red-shirt freshman Will Quayle. Other faceoff men should be freshmen David Jenkins (Taft School) and Aaron Vercollone (Boy’s Latin School). Defensive middies include sophomores Peter Ragosa (1+0=1) and Doug Worthen and transfer Courtland Weisleder (Taft School by way of Tufts). Short-stick defensive midfield runners look like David Baruch (5+4=9), Vercollone and Jenkins. Other middies include Josh Bradstreet (1+0=1) and rookies Evan Mancini (Hotchkiss School) and Jim Kenny (Garden City High School).

“The midfield units changed throughout the fall,” says Starsia. “Every offensive and defensive combination, however, was organized around seniors David Wren and Drew Melchionni. David is a serious candidate for Midfielder of the Year honors and can blister it with both hands. Drew is a two-time All-America selection who seems poised for increased responsibility at both ends of the field.”

DEFENSE
Defensively, the Cavaliers improved a lot last year (going from 10.8 goals allowed in 1996 to 9.7 g/a in 1997, the best figure since 8.9 g/a in 1994). It is reasonable to expect further improvement this year, in spite of the loss of multi-year All-American Tommy Smith, starter Darren Mahoney, and possibly David Winegrad (due to a knee injury).Senior Karl Zeller, a returning three-year starter, should offer leadership to some excellent young talent. If he does that successfully, UVa should see a stout, game-winning style of defense.

“Karl’s strong, consistent play should provide a needed steadying influence on a young unit,” says Starsia. Joining Zeller in starting roles should be sophomore Ryan Curtis, who has not started a game yet but is regarded in opposing camps as one of the top young defenders in the country, and freshman John Harvey (St. George’s School). Backing up this crew will most likely be junior Doug Davies, senior Penn Leachman and sophomore Jay Davenport (1997 red-shirt). Further depth comes from senior James Keane and sophomore Richard Reid, while the status of Winegrad and Patrick Kerney is uncertain. Winegrad, a senior, appeared to have a starting spot sewn up before suffering a severe knee injury in the fall. Kerney also plays football at UVa. He missed most of last season in order to participate in spring football practice but still offers great potential to the stick squad.

Senior goalie Chris Sanderson (146 saves with 118 goals allowed) gave improved performances last year (his 1996 figures improved from 11.08 goals allowed per game and .541 save %, to 10.27 and .553 %). Although he did not start the Hopkins game, he came on and stopped the Blue Jays cold in the second half, leading UVa from an 8-4 deficit to a 16-12 win with 11 saves. That game set the tone for the rest of the season in which he played very well, especially in a regular season win over North Carolina (12 saves, three goals allowed) and against Duke in the ACC Tournament finals (16 saves, six goals allowed). Sanderson has clearly improved over his career and he looks to have his best year ahead of him. He has already gained the extra confidence of making the Canadian National team for the 1998 World Games.

“Chris’ play in the second half of 1997 was All-American caliber,” says Starsia. He seems poised to be included among the nation’s elite.” Sanderson’s probable backup is sophomore Ben O’Neil (16/12). Other challengers include junior Matt D’Urso (8/2) and red-shirt sophomore Hannon Wright.OverviewUVa is seeking a fourth championships weekend trip in Starsia’s six seasons at UVa, and the prognosis looks bright. The reasons for such optimism include a lot of young and redeployed talent on offense, a solid corps of midfielders with improved faceoff play, and a steady, improved defense.

If each of those elements comes together as expected, UVa should continue its tradition of playing exciting lacrosse, being a highly-ranked team and making the playoffs under Starsia.