I know, I know. An article on Saturday? What’s going on. Usually the weekend is dedicated to rest for yours truly, but the bad foot is keeping me up way to late. And since I have time, might as well take a look at upcoming Men’s Lacrosse season in one of Lambeth Field’s special and exclusive Way To Early Look.
Unless you have been living under a rock, or still enamored with football and basketball, the Hoos will defend their 2011 National Championship this season. And the word ‘defend’ is the key word. The main reason the Hoos won the title last year was the play of their defense down the stretch, which allowed Adam in goal to do what he does best: make saves. But what will the makeup off this team look this season?
Offseason Mimics Regular Season
If you thought the 2011 season had ups and downs, just look what the Hoos have dealt with since then. We knew that we were going to lose D Bray Malphrus, M John Haldy, G Adam Ghitelman, and FO Garrett Ince, but now you have to add 2 more names to the casualty list. Middie Nick O’Reilly was suspended for the 2012 season for team rules violation, and while the rumor mill has been churning, we won’t divulge why, but needless to say, it was the right move. Then the Hoos found out that Attackman Connor English will transfer. Now, instead of working on gelling the defense, add the attack and middie rotation to that list.
But it is not all doom and gloom for the Hoos. When you are on top, you have two things that work in your favor: (1) depth and (2) recruiting. First up, while the Hoos lost a lot of backside talent, they are still loaded in the middle and front. All World Steele Stanwick, Chris Bocklet, and Matt White are all back from the starting attacking line from a year ago, along with key reserves Matt Cockerton, and Owen Van Arsdale. In the middle, Virginia returns a large majority of key starters and reserves in Colin Briggs, Rob Emery, Chris LaPierre, Chris Clements, and Blake Riley. And on the defensive side, 3rd year Harry Prevas and 2nd year Scott McWilliams were starters and will be on the 1st line come 2012, and we are hearing that Matt Lovejoy, who was injured towards the end of last season with a shoulder injury, will be back for his senior year. The goal should be manned by next-up Rob Fortunato, but Conor McGee and Austin Geisler will get some early year playing time as well.
Starsia always brings in a lot of talent, and his attention this year was on the defense and middies. The Cavs bring in 10 new faces, 8 of which fall into the M/D/G category. Highlighting the newcomers are (with National Rankings) A James Pannell (3), who is the younger brother of Cornell’s insanely good Rob Pannell; M Will McNamara (6), and top Midfielder in the class; D Tanner Scales (8), New England Defender of the Year; and G Dan Marino (24), no, seriously. Dan ‘Fricken’ Marino. Look for these guys to see a lot of time this year.
Coaches vs. Media
Ah, it wouldn’t be a preseason poll without a little controversy. I don’t get paid for this (but I should, hehe) but Inside Lacrosse is the go to source for everything Lax. At the beginning of the month, both the media and IL have the Hoos at the top of the NCAA Lacrosse Polls, with the Duke Blue Devils 2nd. But not 10 days later, the ACC coaches weighed in and but Duke 1st and Virginia 2nd. What changed in a week and a half? Nothing really. It’s all about sample size. ACC with only 4 members (for now) might be a little more in tuned with their own conference, but the national media and coaches still view the Hoos as the odds on favorite. On the ACC Preseason team from Virginia are A Steel Stanwick, M Colin Briggs and Chris LaPierre, and D Scott McWilliams. You don’t have to look far to find the other ACC teams, they check in at #2 (Duke), #6 (UNC), and #8 (Maryland). Again, not surprising to see all four in the Top 10, as the conference usually sends all the teams to the NCAA Tourney most years.
Schedule Chocked Full of Home Cooking
In a sport with only 61 D-I teams, there aren’t a lot of cupcakes. The Hoos released their schedule yesterday and it mirrors in difficulty to the 2010 season. Virginia will play their 3 ACC foes, with only Duke coming to Virginia (thank goodness!). In addition to the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic this year against #5 Cornell, the Cavaliers will travel out to Denver to play in the first ever Mile High Classic against #16 Penn. The home slate looks a lot better this year, as we get both #3 Johns Hopkins and #4 Syracuse at home, and, if your counting, that’s 2-3-4 all at home. Also at home Virginia will play in-state foe VMI, thorn-in-our-side Stony Brook, and also-ran Vermont. On the road, the Hoos will only play 3 true road games at IL #17 Drexel to start the season, Mount St. Mary’s, and Ohio State. Top it all off with the ACC Tourney in Charlottesville this year, and you have the recipe that could keep the Hoos at the top of the standings all year.
So What Do We Take Away From All This?
Virginia is pretty much set up from an attacking and middie standpoint, and the front end of their schedule with Drexel, VMI, Stony Brook, and Mount St. Mary’s should provide enough game experience to work out the kinks with the defensive line, goalie, and face-offs. We know Virginia can score, but they found success towards the end of last year when they were winning faceoffs and stifling opposing offenses. This team should not have the distractions that faced them last season both on and off the field, as all of those issues have seemed to be cleared up for the most part.
But keep this in mind: Virginia does well when the target is off their back, with the lone exception being the 2006 season. The Hoos have never won back-to-back championships, and in 2007, they lost in the first round to Delaware at home. Nevertheless, Virginia is poised once again to make another great showing.