Season Preview (WD1): No. 6 Virginia
Julie Gardner has started every game of her Virginia
Consistency is the byword for Virginia's 2012 season. The Cavaliers had a distinctly unsatisfying 2011 season, going 9-9 and setting a program record for losses. They've responded to the downturn with a newfound work ethic and a focus on physical fitness.
"We've grown up since last year. We can be clutch when it counts. We're capable of giving more this year," said senior team captain Josie Owen.
Virginia hit the weight room harder than ever this fall, along with weekly boot camp workouts. Increased athleticism and better footwork are top priorities. The Cavaliers have many talented players with good shots and dazzling stick work, but they need to put some substance behind all that style.
The attack is in good hands with Owen and senior attacker Charlie Finnigan, an English national team star. Owens, who missed part of the 2010 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, spent her junior season playing tentatively. It is a mistake she will not make twice.
"I want to be one of those players who people do look to make a big play," Owen said. "Now I want the ball in my stick a lot more than I did last year."
The veterans will get a boost from standout freshman Jess Loizeaux, who established herself as a sharpshooter during fall ball.
"We put in a system on the offensive end, and the kids were automatically more patterned and more disciplined," said Virginia head coach Julie Myers.
The centerpiece of the Cavaliers' midfield is do-it-all senior Julie Gardner. The All-American has started every game of her career at Virginia and will return to a pure midfield role this season after logging some time on attack. She will have support on the draw from Owen, the Cavaliers' top returner on draw controls, and from redshirt freshman Liza Blue, who sat out last season with shin splints.
"Julie's in better shape than she's ever been in and she's playing better defense," Myers said. "Her game is much more complete this year."
Defense is where the Cavaliers have the greatest need for a consistent, steady performance, after allowing 11.67 goals per game in 2011. The extra conditioning the Cavaliers undertook in the offseason should give the defense more speed, but while Virginia lost only four players to graduation, two of them were defenders Bailey Fogarty and Liz Downs. Junior Megan Dunleavy started every game as a sophomore and is the most experienced field defender on the team. She'll get support from sophomore Lauren
Goerz, a Californian who last year transferred to Virginia from Cal when it appeared the Bears' varsity program would be eliminated. As a freshman, Goerz broke into the starting lineup as a defensive midfielder; Myers will use her as a true defender for 2012.
"Lauren's got a heck of a shot, but she's so hard to beat and get around," Myers said.
Junior goalie Kim Kolarik is now a third-year starter, but she has sophomore Liz Colgan nipping at her heels if she doesn't improve upon last year's .397 save percentage. It's tough to put up good numbers when you're facing offenses like Maryland's and Duke's, but it's essential for a team that wants to compete in the ACC and on the national stage.
This article appears in the February issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription to LM. Follow LaxMagazine.com all season long, and check out the Tigers' team page.