I hate to be a Debbie Downer. My friends point out to me that I am uber-critical at times to the point where they are looking for load bearing members to hang themselves on after reading my previews. Chalk that up to many, many, many years where we get pumped up, just to be let down as the season rolls along. Case in point, the 2012 season played out in just that fashion. A quick 8-0 start to the year saw Virginia get worn down at the end of the year and finishing 4-4, bowing out of the ACC tourney in the semis to UNC and Norte Dame in the quarters in the NCAA. On top of all of that, the Hoos were 7-1 AWAY from Charlottesville and only 5-3 at home, 3 goals away from a 3-5 record. Trying to piece together what happened last year, Dom Starsia will turn to another potent attack and middy game to carry new faces on defense and between the pipes, and hopefully bring back some of the magic from the 2011 National Championship team.
If there is one thing Virginia can do well is score the ball, both from set pieces and on the transition. Gone are the top 3 scorers from a year ago, including All-World Steele Stanwick, Chris Bocklet, and Colin Briggs. But with Virginia, it is, and has always, been next man up, and leading the attack is 2nd year Owen Van Arsdale, who turned it on late into his rookie campaign last season. Nick O’Reilly, who missed all of 2012, but was on the 2011 NCAA All-Tourney team, and Mark Cockerton, who had 16 goals from a year ago, will join him on the attack. Plenty of returning stars in the midfield, including preseason All-Americans Rob Emery and Chris LaPierre and sniper Ryan Tucker. Mick Parks and Tanner Ottenbreit will continue to work the faceoff circle, with Parks winning 55.6% of faceoffs last season.
Now the defense is a little more consistent that the past few years, with Harry Prevas, and All-American Scott McWilliams coming back, joined by 2nd year Greg Danseglio in the starting backfield. Coming off the bench will be Tanner Scales, who was the #3 defensive player in HS last year and Thompson Brown, who (only at Virginia) came over from the football team last season. In goal to start the season will be 2nd year Rhody Heller, who appeared in 3 games last season in relief. Right behind him will be the #1 goalie in HS last year (#8 overall) named Dan Marino. Yep, you read that right, Mr. Isotoner, Ace-do-you-have-anymore-of-that-gum Dan Marino. Just kidding, but seriously, it is good to have some solid youth to the position that has been manned by seniors for the past 4 seasons.
So how will this season play out? The Hoos come into this season ranked 9th in the media and 7th in the coaches’ poll. The ACC is loaded again with all 3 other teams ranked above the Hoos (Md-2, UNC-T4, Duke 6). This is the year that Virginia gets two of them at home, Maryland and UNC, while playing Wahoo-killer Duke on the Road. The non-conference slate is full of the same ole teams like #5 John Hopkins in Baltimore and #13 Syracuse and Stony Brook on the Road. Virginia completes home and home series with Drexel and #20 Ohio State in Charlottesville, while welcoming other mainstays like VMI, Mount St. Mary’s, Vermont, Bellarmine, and #6 Cornell to the Hook.
While it looks like a daunting schedule, it’s that way every year. Virginia can score with all of these teams, but it will come down to defensive play again this year, especially when ACC ‘season’ rolls around. I don’t see a scenario that the Hoos won’t make the NCAA tourney save a huge loss to any of the unranked teams, even if we just split record with the top-tier teams. I’m not ready to say this is more than just an NCAA team, but there is enough youth on this team that could make for a great buildup to amazing 2014 and beyond seasons.