March 29, 2011

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Tuesdays with Corey: Suddenly Vulnerable, Virginia Turns Attention to ACC

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com


Dom Starsia (right) said Virginia's loss Saturday at Johns Hopkins "felt like an ACC game," an omen for the tough tests that lay ahead for the Cavaliers as they enter conference play looking somewhat vulnerable.

© Greg Wall

If anything has been learned this season, it's that no game is predictable. No team is safe. No outcome is certain. There are three days left in March, and Nostradamus, if alive, would have little success predicting April, much less Memorial Day weekend in May.

Virginia knows this all too well, after traveling north to Baltimore being upset by Johns Hopkins, 12-11, Saturday afternoon in front of about 3,200 fans at Homewood Field.

The Cavaliers' defense, faceoff play and impatience at times were exposed. They fell behind by five goals and couldn't hit water from a boat with the few offensive chances they had in the first half. One Shamel Bratton missed shot would have hit the Italian Sausage sign on the concession stand off to the side of the field had a protective net not been there to stop it.

"I didn't think we were as poised as we might have needed to be," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said after the game. "We may have just been too keyed up with the atmosphere and everything else going on."

But the Cavaliers displayed their full potential during a 7-1 run spanning the third and early fourth quarters to twice take a one-goal lead in the final period. Steele Stanwick had an overshadowed seven-point day and Garett Ince got the best of Hopkins faceoff man Matt Dolente, who had won nine of 12 faceoffs in the first half against mainly Ryan Benincasa.

Next up: the ACC. Virginia must try to carry an optimistic outlook into the rough and tumble conference season, which for them begins Saturday at Maryland. The Terps' are tied for 10th in the latest coaches' poll after losing to North Carolina at home.

The ACC has four of the nation's top 10 teams, as expected, including two of the top four. Less expected is that Virginia begins conference play coming off a loss to Johns Hopkins, which the Cavaliers' had beaten six straight times and in 10 out of previous 14 meetings.

"You hear it all," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said Saturday. "How come you haven't beaten Virginia? What's wrong? I guess you could ask them how come they haven't beat Duke? You don't know why. I don't know why. You go out and play the game."

Zing. There it is. It wasn't intended, but Pietramala hit on a theme the Cavs' cannot run from. Will Virginia be able to overcome nemesis Duke?

In the past three seasons, Virginia has won 45 games and lost nine. Of the losses, six have been to Duke, including one in last year's final four. Though the Cavs did beat Duke in last year's ACC tournament.

As for more time-sensitive information, the Blue Devils have put together six straight wins and may have found some offensive consistency, sparked by freshman attackman Jordan Wolf. He's had 23 points in five starts since Duke managed only three goals in a loss to Penn in the third game of the season.

But for Virginia the tall task of facing Duke is still two games away. For now, the answer to Petro's theoretical question is, in short, the Cavs are concerned first with Maryland and North Carolina.

"Well, all these teams," Starsia began in a response to a question about what the loss to Johns Hopkins meant in the grand scheme of the season. "In our sport, the top teams all play each other, so people have been talking to me over the last couple weeks about how we've played some good teams to date: Cornell and Syracuse and Drexel and Stony Brook. I keep saying, 'Look, we've got Hopkins, Maryland, Carolina, Duke, ACC tournament coming up.'

"It's a neat characteristic of our sport that all the top teams play each other. There's going to be a lot of games like this over the next couple of weeks into the ACC part of our schedule. All of those games are like that game today. That felt like an ACC game. Two teams getting after it physically, getting after each other, playing until the very end. That's what we're in store for over the next couple weeks."

As Starsia spoke, Shamel Bratton, also in the post-game interview room, nodded his head in agreement, already looking to put the Johns Hopkins game behind him quickly. He and Virginia will need to.

High Five


Looking for an upset? How about Hartford over Albany? The Hawks surprisingly have the best record of any America East team right now.

Upset Alert is back. Last Tuesday this space was 0-for-5 in upsets for the week, though the top three upset picks were decided by a combined four goals. Let's give it another try.

1. Brown (3-3) at No. 3 Duke (7-2), 3 p.m. Tuesday
Duke was on the list last week ahead of its Georgetown game. The Blue Devils fell behind early, but dominated in the second half, outscoring the Hoyas 9-3 in the 14-12 win, their sixth straight victory. Brown has some good defenders that could throw Duke's young attack off track. Something about these midweek games just screams weird result.

2. Loyola (4-3) at No. 17 Ohio State (5-4), 1 p.m. Saturday
"We have to do some soul searching," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said after the Greyhounds lost to Denver, 12-8 at home on a Wednesday night, March 16. They then lost to Air Force without injured faceoff man John Schiavone (concussion) in the lineup, but came back to beat Mount St. Mary's Saturday with him and snapped a three-game losing streak.

3. Dartmouth (4-3) at No. 7 Cornell (6-2), 3 p.m. Saturday
With the Ivy League super competitive, no league result is really surprising — other than maybe a Princeton win. Dartmouth edged Harvard, 9-8, on Saturday. Cornell snuck by Penn, 13-12, in overtime. This one could also be close.

4. Hartford (6-3) at Albany (3-4), 3:30 p.m. Wednesday
Maybe this wouldn't be an upset, but when's the last time we've had reasons to pick Hartford to win? Albany has lost three straight, but has some good early season results indicated the Great Danes can still challenge for the America East title with Stony Brook. Watch out for Hartford, though, and faceoff man Tim Fallon (63.3 win percentage). The Hawks have the best record of any America East team right now and are off to their best start since 2000.

5. Navy (4-5) at Georgetown (3-4), 7 p.m. Friday
It's been a tough season for Navy, as they fell to 1-4 in the Patriot League Saturday in a 5-4 loss to Colgate. Georgetown has been slightly more successful against a tougher schedule, though they Hoyas still have a losing record. A relatively local matchup always usually brings out the best in both teams.

Quote of the Week

"The orangutan is off our back" — Hofstra coach Seth Tierney after the Pride earned its first CAA win of the season in an 11-6 victory over Drexel Saturday. Not a monkey, Tierney said. That would be too easy.

Tenth-ranked Hofstra (7-1) is working through injuries that have depleted its midfield. Steve Serling is done for the season with a lacerated spleen and fellow midfielder Drew Coholan is sidelined with a shoulder injury that could keep him out the rest of the year.

Ian Braddish, a transfer from North Carolina and Long Island product from West Islip, has stepped up to the first midfield since Serling was knocked out of March 5 game against Harvard. Kevin Ford and Brad Loizeaux are the other starters, and sophomore Aaron Jones had added depth.


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