Sept. 19, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- His surname carries considerable weight in lacrosse circles, a fact of which Joe Starsia was well aware when he decided to go into coaching. That played a role in the career path he chose to follow.
Starsia, who turned 30 last week, was hired this month as an assistant coach at UVa, whose men's lacrosse program ranks among the nation's best. But the Lynchburg College alumnus did not start at the pinnacle of his sport. He worked his way up.
First came three years as an assistant coach at his alma mater, then two at another Division III school, Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. His move to Division I came after the 2011 season, when Starsia joined the staff at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y. He spent two seasons at Colgate, which in 2012 earned its first at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament, before returning to the area where he spent much of his boyhood.
"In my career, it was a big deal to me to earn my own way," Starsia said. "There were probably things in my career that would have gone quicker if I had asked my dad to really push hard to get me interviews for different things, but I never really wanted to do that, and I never really wanted to get anything that I didn't earn in the first place."
His father, of course, is Hall of Fame coach Dom Starsia, who won 101 games in 10 seasons at Brown and has compiled a 247-84 record, with four NCAA championships, in 21 seasons at UVa.
When his son started coaching, Dom Starsia said, "I think on balance he was going to have some advantage, in that people would know who he was. At the same time, Joe has always been a fiercely independent person who wasn't interested in [capitalizing on] any advantages his father might be able to provide. From very early in our lives together, he's always had an independent spirit and has carved his own path."
At Virginia, Joe replaced John Walker, who left this summer to become an assistant at Princeton. Four years ago, when a spot opened on his staff, Dom Starsia considered hiring his son before concluding that Walker was more qualified. This time the decision was easy for the elder Starsia.
"He's paid his dues and earned this," Dom Starsia said of his son.
The University of Denver's legendary coach, Bill Tierney, who won six NCAA titles at Princeton, emailed Dom Starsia this month to praise Joe's work ethic and qualifications.
"It's been fun for me to watch him grow up in the profession, but he literally did this on his own," Dom Starsia said. "I barely have made any calls for him over the years. People can shake their head at that if they want to, but that's the truth of it."
The younger Starsia will work with UVa's goalies and defensemen. Associate head coach Marc Van Arsdale is also the Cavaliers' offensive coordinator. The elder Starsia oversees the operation.
"It's great to work with him and Coach Van," Joe said. "They're both two guys that I really look up to, just as people but also in terms of their knowledge of the game. It's awesome."
The Starsias moved to Charlottesville in September 1992, and Joe spent many hours around the University as a boy. Still, he said, it's "very different working at UVa versus growing up here. The ins and outs, I didn't really know a lot about it. So I know where things are, but I didn't necessarily know how anything works around here.
"It's definitely a little weird to be on the other side of the window, but it's fun."
Joe attended Western Albemarle High School in Crozet for three years before transferring to Loomis Chaffee in Windsor, Conn., where he was a boarding student. Back then, it was no foregone conclusion that he would follow his father into coaching.
Early in his time at Lynchburg, where he played defense on the lacrosse team, he flirted "with the idea of accounting as a major," Joe said, "but I decided by the start of my sophomore year of college that I wanted to coach, so that's kind of what I focused on. I spent my summers working lacrosse camps and stuff like that."
Joe graduated from Lynchburg in 2006 with a bachelor's in sport management -- he minored in English -- and two years later earned his master's there, focusing on educational leadership.
As a coach, he has impressed his bosses at each stop. Lynchburg advanced to the ODAC championship game twice during Starsia's tenure as an assistant there, winning the title in 2008.
"He is a passionate young man who has worked extremely hard to do some great things in our sport," Lynchburg coach Steve Koudelka said.
In 2010, Starsia helped Dickinson win 15 games, then a school record. The Red Devils went 17-2 in 2011.
"Joe had a profound impact in helping create a winning culture in our program on and off the field," Dickinson coach Dave Webster said. "He has great attention to detail, is meticulous and brings a balanced perspective to the table."
At Colgate, Starsia served as recruiting coordinator and defensive coordinator. The Raiders collected their first-ever NCAA tournament victory in 2012, knocking off previously undefeated Massachusetts, and finished the season with a school-record 14 wins.
Joe "has meant a lot to our program, and we are sad to see him go," head coach Mike Murphy said, "but he said if there were a place he would leave Colgate for, it would be the University of Virginia. UVa added a great piece to their coaching staff."
Joe and his wife are expecting their first child next month. Pam Starsia is an attorney who attended Princeton as an undergraduate and law school at Georgetown.
Pam and Joe met through his older sister, Molly Lasagna, who lives in the D.C. area. His twin sisters, Maggie and Emma, live in Ivy with their parents.
They're thrilled to have their brother around again, and Joe beams when talking about Maggie and Emma.
"I haven't lived at home full time since my junior year at Western," he noted, and each job he accepted in coaching -- until now -- took him farther away from the twins.
"Which was not something I really wanted to do," Joe said, "but it worked out that way. I definitely missed being able to see my sisters frequently, and so obviously the opportunity to come back and live here and be closer to them is something I'm really excited about."
The same goes for working alongside his father, who, Joe said, "is not that different in the office than he is at home. I think that's one of the things that has made him successful in this business, that he is the same. He does treat the players the same way that he treats us, his kids. The interaction has been really positive and really fun so far."
The Wahoos, who started fall practice early this month, are coming off a season in which they failed to make the NCAAs for only the second time under Dom Starsia. The goalies who logged the most playing time last season -- junior Rhody Heller and sophomore Dan Marino -- are back, and Virginia has added a heralded recruit at that position, freshman Matt Barrett.
On defense, such veterans as Scott McWilliams, Tanner Scales, Greg Danseglio and Tanner Ottenbreit are back. There's also Joseph Lisicky, who twice was named a Division III All-American at Lynchburg. Lisicky is using his final season of eligibility at UVa, where he's in graduate school.
Injuries to All-America midfielder Chris LaPierre and attackman James Pannell, among others, took a toll on the 'Hoos last season, as did inconsistent goalkeeping. Joe Starsia believes Virginia will be better in the cage in 2014 and likes what he's seen of the defense.
"It's a really talented group," he said. "Even last year, having had the chance to watch a lot of games on TV, or scout some of the games when we were at Colgate, you had the sense that there was a lot of talent there on defense, and they played good defense for the most part, and good-enough defense in a lot of games to have a chance to win.
"It's really an athletic, physical group, with a lot of experience there. Not a lot where you have to reinvent the wheel with those guys right now."
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