January 28, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 9 Virginia Cavaliers (MD1)

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | College Preview 2014

Toward the end of last season, Mark Cockerton was one of the most effective finishers in the game, but he and the Cavaliers didn't get to show it in the NCAA tournament. (Peyton Williams)

Previous: No. 10 Albany Great Danes

Vitals

2013 Record: 7-8 (0-3 ACC)
Coach: Dom Starsia (22nd year)
Record at Virginia: 247-84

Power ratings (scale of 1-5)

Offense: 4
Defense:
4
Goalkeeping:
2
Faceoff:
3

Top Returner

A Mark Cockerton (Sr.)
By the end of last season, Cockerton had become one of the most effective finishers in the game. It only received so much attention because of Virginia's struggles, but he put together some highlight-reel goals. As an established scorer, it's clear what his next step is. "His job is to complete his growth by making sure people around him are getting better," Starsia said.

X-Factor

Pick a goalie
Whether it's junior Rhody Heller or sophomore Dan Marino or even freshman Matt Barrett, Virginia's ceiling will rise or collapse based on its ability to find a goalie who can regularly stop more than half the shots he sees. In the Cavaliers' final 13 games last year, they had a save percentage of more than 50 percent just three times. That just won't cut it against the schedule Virginia faces each year.

Tournament Trend

2009 Semifinals
2010
Semifinals
2011
Champions
2012
Quarterfinals
2013
Did not qualify

What's new?

As usual, Starsia brought a loaded recruiting class to campus. Attackman Ryan Lukacovic and midfielder Zed Williams could contend for starting positions immediately, and goalie Matt Barrett will be in the mix for playing time as the Cavaliers try to shore up that vital position.

Telling Number

2
Losing seasons for Virginia in coach Dom Starsia's first 21 years in Charlottesville. After the Cavaliers went 5-8 during a disastrous and dysfunctional 2004, they rebounded to go 11-4 and reach the NCAA semifinals. Last year's team, which missed the NCAA tournament for the frist time since 2004, was far closer to success than that '04 bunch, so there's hope a quick turnaround is possible.

Enemy Lines

What rival coaches say

"Can't put my finger on them. Can see them winning it all or missing playoffs again."

— One rival coach

"Talent all over the field without a true offensive leader or distributor... Can't put my finger on them. Can see them winning it all or missing playoffs again. They don't have any passers on the team, guys who can set their scorers up... Will they get any saves? Who gets the assists on this team?... LaPierre returning will be a huge boost in terms of leadership and of course on the field as he makes a ton of plays for them in the middle of the field and those type of plays have the ability to rally the team and also change the complexion of any game."

"Offensively, coach Van Arsdale is one of the best and they have plenty of talent returning along with some good freshmen coming in. Cockerton will continue to score goals, Emery and Tucker will continue to shot the ball from everywhere... This team lost a ton of close games last year, if they can reverse that trend they will be right back into the playoff hunt... New system defensively with Joe Starsia, this part of the field has been a major Achilles' heel even though the zone defense helped to guide them to the national championship in 2011... Goaltending will be an issue as it was last year, if they can find their goalie it may also help the defense get better... If they stay healthy, they will score a lot of goals."

"What is going on in Charlottesville these days? No drama is great news for the staff and team, and the Cavaliers will enjoy starting the season out of the limelight. Some of Dom Starsia's best years have been the ones where the least was expected. This is how he likes it, where he has the men's full attention and there are fewer headlines to distract his boys. Dom always has a wealth of talent: making them gel is the key. On defense, Scott McWilliams is an outstanding defenseman with the ability to take the ball away and also be a shutdown defenseman... After a down year Coach Starsia and staff always get the job done and follow a down year with a high. Look for Cavaliers to come back strong this season."

"I would expect them to be back. It's a very athletic group. They definitely dealt with some injuries last year. You kind of look and go 'Is everybody healthy?' You get a guy like LaPierre back, in terms of leadership, and it's a very dangerous team. They should be successful. There's definitely a lot of guys off that group that really came along last year. Cockerton was playing as good as anyone at the end of the season."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: The danger of playing the sort of loaded schedule Virginia does is if a team isn't entirely prepared or flawed in a significant way, things can get ugly in a hurry. The Cavaliers fell to Syracuse, Cornell, Ohio State, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, North Carolina and Duke in consecutive weeks, turning a modestly promising 4-0 start into a 5-7 hole. There was nothing inherently wrong with any of those setbacks; five of those seven losses came against eventual NCAA quarterfinalists, and a sixth was against a Maryland bunch that spent part of the season ranked No. 1. By the time Virginia figured things out and pummeled Bellarmine and Maryland in late April, it was out of wiggle room and saw its season come to an end with a 16-13 loss at North Carolina in the ACC title game.

High Point: The 13-6 defeat of Maryland in the ACC semifinals was an impressive moment for the Cavaliers. Granted, Maryland was already in its late-season tailspin, and the Terrapins' lousy play was a factor. But Virginia played exceptionally well down the stretch, ripping off seven goals in less than 15 minutes to extend its season (and its hopes of an improbable NCAA tournament bid) by a couple more days.

Low Point: There were a lot of losses to choose from, but the Cavaliers had three one-goal setbacks and were relatively competitive in most of their other defeats. The same can't be said of the 15-8 demolition at the hands of Johns Hopkins on March 23. The score didn't do the rout justice; Hopkins led 11-1 early in the third quarter, and Virginia shot 8-for-52 for the game.

2014 Preview

Best Case: Virginia's strength lies in its midfield, where veterans Rob Emery and Ryan Tucker will provide stability and fifth-year senior Chris LaPierre could lend a hand on offense from time to time. While it is dangerous to rely on so much scoring from the outside, the Cavaliers should be able to have one of the most balanced offenses in the country — especially if at least one of Ryan Lukacovic, James Pannell and Owen Van Arsdale emerges as a consistent scorer to complement Mark Cockerton. The key here is goalie play. If the Cavaliers can get something resembling the solid play they got from 2012 starter Rob Fortunato (.566 save percentage), they'll be one of the most dangerous teams in the country.

Worst Case: It sounds like a broken record, but Virginia is going to struggle again if it can't find steady play in the cage. LaPierre's return from injury and the instant offense he can help provide as a one-man clearing game is going to alleviate some of the pressure on the Cavaliers' defense, so it is unlikely Virginia slogs through a second consecutive losing season. But with five ACC opponents plus Cornell and Johns Hopkins crammed into a 43-day span, the Cavaliers won't gain much traction unless it can get improved play from Rhody Heller or Dan Marino or an instant impact from freshman Matt Barrett.

Self-Examination: Dom Starsia on ...

M Rob Emery (Fr.)
"He's scored some big goals for us. I think it's his leadership as much as anything else for this coming year. He has the experience and the personality for it. He's one of the captains for us. He's one of those guys who was a success the day before he arrived here. He has a 3.5 in economics, he already had a job set up on Wall Street. He's one of those kids like Matt Ward that knows how to do it and does it all the time. We need him to be more concerned about the people around him and need him to have a more active role of leadership on the team. There's kind of a Chris Rotelli thing going on. Entering his senior year, he was mostly about scoring goals, and we told him 'There's more to life than just scoring goals.' The same thing goes for Rob. We need Rob to be a leader on this team. We play better and it'll all go better if his primary concern is how Ryan Tucker players or how Zed Williams plays."

G Rhody Heller (Jr.)
"Picture yourself and your first start is against Hopkins at M&T Bank Stadium and it's your sophomore year and you're from Colorado. Talk about throwing a kid into the fire. He's just better [now]. He's a little more hardened and a little more experienced and he's in better shape now. He's worked hard. He's a little better goalie now than at this time last year.

D Scott McWilliams (Sr.)
"He's a very athletic and has done a great job for us. It's fun watching him. He's a little bit quiet, but he's also very athletic. Knowing you have a No. 1 defender, it gives you a great deal of comfort, and that's the role he'll play. If we played Princeton, he might be in the midfield covering Schreiber. Playing Hopkins, he gets the Stanwick matchup. Playing Loyola, he probably gets the Ward matchup. It gives you comfort that that you have a guy with that size and experience and athleticism who can handle those marquee matchups."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.


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