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'Hoos Bedeviled Again by ACC Nemesis

James Pannell

April 12, 2014

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CHARLOTTESVILLE -- On a warm spring night at Klöckner Stadium, UVa lost 22 of 35 faceoffs, including the game's final nine draws, and its goalies combined to make only four saves. Virginia's opponent, second-ranked Duke, reached the 17-goal mark with more than six minutes to play in this ACC men's lacrosse game.

Yet with a minute left, UVa had the ball and a chance to cut its deficit to a single goal Friday night. That the Cavaliers' comeback stalled left them frustrated after yet another loss to Duke -- their 14th in the teams' past 15 meetings -- but they have not given up on their season.

"A couple more saves for us and a couple more shots going in for us, from guys that I would have expected to be able to get them, and maybe that game swings the other way," head coach Dom Starsia said after No. 8 UVa's 17-15 loss to its ACC nemesis. "I told the kids afterward, `We're close. We're right there.' "

The loss came six days after UVa surrendered two late goals and lost 11-10 to No. 4 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

"The last two weeks I feel like we've played the two best teams that we've seen all year, and we battled them down to the wire," Starsia said. "We gotta keep playing and getting better and hope that we get another opportunity."

Since thrashing VMI 21-3 on March 24, the Wahoos (8-5, 1-4) have dropped three straight games, all to conference foes. Their latest loss means the `Hoos will not qualify for the four-team ACC tournament, which will be played April 25 and 27 at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.



The other team excluded from the conference tournament will be the loser of the Saturday night game between North Carolina and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. The ACC has six teams this season -- Maryland leaves this summer for the Big Ten -- and UVa will face UNC or Syracuse on April 26 in what the league is calling a "Showcase Game" at PPL Park.

The Cavaliers will be disappointed to miss the ACC tourney, defensive midfielder Chris LaPierre said Friday night.

"At the same time, when we won the [NCAA] championship back in 2011, we were the last-place regular-season team in the ACC," said LaPierre, a fifth-year senior. "So ultimately I think that speaks to the level of competition in the ACC. Would we like to be there? Yes. Would we like to win that? Yes. But ultimately we're looking at the big picture."

It's difficult to persevere through adversity, LaPierre acknowledged, but he'll urge his younger teammates to keep battling.

"The only thing you can tell the guys is that it's going to be worth it in the long run," he said. "No one is feeling sorry for us. The coaches aren't going to feel sorry for us, our parents aren't going to feel sorry for us, and certainly Bellarmine next week is not going to feel sorry for us.

"So the only thing we can do is take a few days off this weekend and get back to work on Monday and get ready to play."

The `Hoos, who have played a grueling schedule, have beaten such teams as Loyola, Syracuse and Johns Hopkins. Next up for UVa is its regular-season home finale, next Saturday at 1 p.m. against Bellarmine. A win in that game would position the Cavaliers well for an at-large invitation to the NCAA tourney, no matter how they fare April 26 in Chester.

A win over Duke (11-2, 4-1), of course, would have been much more significant, and Virginia led 6-4 early in the second quarter. But Duke's Brendan Fowler won six of the final seven faceoffs in the half, helping his team take control of the game. The Devils led 10-7 at the break, and only a goal by UVa midfielder Ryan Tucker with 2.1 seconds left in the half made it that close.

"You give Duke the ball too many times, they're going to make you pay," LaPierre said.

Duke sophomore Myles Jones, a 6-4, 240-pound midfielder, scored a game-high four goals and also had two assists. Attackmen Christian Walsh, Josh Dionne and Jordan Wolf scored three goals apiece for the Blue Devils, who capitalized on repeated defensive breakdowns by UVa and overwhelmed freshman goalie Matt Barrett.

In their past five games, the Devils have scored 89 goals.

"They're probably the best offensive team that we've faced all year," UVa defenseman Tanner Scales said.

Starsia said: "You just give them a little crack, and that's a team that can take advantage of it."

Barrett allowed 12 goals and made only three saves. Midway through the third quarter, with UVa trailing 12-8, Starsia replaced Barrett with sophomore Dan Marino, who had yet to play this season.

"I don't blame Matt for a lot of those goals," Starsia said. "I was hopeful that by making the change that we might get a little spark there, and I think we had a chance to win right till the end."

Of the goalie change, Starsia said, "I don't do that lightly, and it doesn't mean we won't come right back with Matt in the next game, because I don't think a lot of it was his fault. They shot the ball very well."

With Marino in the cage, the Devils' barrage continued. With four minutes left, Duke led 17-12. But the Cavaliers refused to go quietly. Sophomore middie Greg Coholan fed sophomore attackman James Pannell for an extra-man goal that pulled UVa to 17-13 at the 3:45 mark, and Pannell scored again 37 seconds later, again on a pass from Coholan.

Virginia's fans roared, and the volume at Klöckner rose again when Coholan bounced a shot past Duke goalie Luke Aaron to make it 17-15 with 2:29 left.

Fowler won the ensuing draw, but with 1:05 left, Marino made his first save, and the `Hoos had an opportunity to pull closer. With 45 seconds left, Coholan spotted UVa's most prolific scorer open on the crease, but senior attackman Mark Cockerton's point-blank shot missed the cage, and Duke survived.

Cockerton, who entered the game with a team-high 36 goals, was 1-for-10 shooting Friday night. Pannell led the Cavaliers with three goals, and Coholan, freshman midfielder Zed Williams and junior middie Tyler German added two apiece. Coholan and Williams each had two assists as well.

"I really wanted to win this game," Starsia said. "I think in terms of when you look ahead to the postseason and what the possibilities are, it would have been nice to get another one under our belt here.

"At the same time, I try not to drop too much of that on my players' shoulders. I don't think that this was necessarily a must-win. We're still at the point for me -- I've been doing this a long time -- where I'm looking for something from my team. Are we gonna get better? Are we gonna battle? Are we gonna do some of those things? I thought I saw some of that tonight, so I think we got something we can build on. For us it's sort of a two-game regular season now. Hopefully we'll get an opportunity to make a run in the postseason."


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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.

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