Virginia looks to beat Syracuse
Sunday clash with No. 6 Orangemen threatens to overshadow match against dangerous midweek foe
The No. 1 Virginia men's lacrosse team begins a whirlwind stretch of three games in a week - including a clash with bitter rival No. 3 Syracuse this weekend - when it faces off against Mount St. Mary's tonight in Emmittsburg, MD.
Virginia (3-0, 0-0 ACC) comes off a 12-5 victory against Stony Brook which saw senior attacker Steele Stanwick record both his 100th career goal and 100th career assist.
"Shooter, passer, he kind of does it all," redshirt senior defenseman Matt Lovejoy said. "You take it for granted a little bit when you play against him in practice every day; you don't really realize how special he is."
Stanwick became just the third Cavalier to reach both marks, joining Kevin Pehlke (1990-93) and Danny Glading (2006-09).
"I always look at Steele Stanwick as one of the best players to ever come to Virginia," redshirt senior midfielder Colin Briggs said. "It's really been an honor just playing with him."
The squad's most daunting challenge when it faces the Mountaineers (1-0, Northeast 0-0) may lie in resisting the urge to overlook them ahead of Sunday's battle with Syracuse (2-0, Big East 0-0). The perennial meeting between the Cavaliers and the Orange - a rematch of the 1999 title game, which Virginia won 12-10 - often results in fireworks and could affect the NCAA Tournament down the road.
"You don't want to overlook a midweek game at all, but it's hard not to get excited about Syracuse coming," Lovejoy said. "It's always a shoot-out; it's always emotional; it's always a battle, and it's a lot of fun."
Stanwick does not seem to be taking anything for granted.
"We just want to take it one game at a time," Stanwick said. "When Syracuse does come, we'll talk about Syracuse."
Virginia head coach Dom Starsia expressed more consternation about the tightly packed schedule than about his team's focus.
"It drives the coaches crazy, because we don't get as much time to prepare as we would like," Starsia said.
In their first three games, the Cavaliers have shown glimpses of the offensive brilliance which took them to a national championship last season. 2011 All-Americans Stanwick, Briggs and senior attacker Chris Bocklet spearhead the Virginia attack, contributing to 33 of the team's 71 points in the first three games. Redshirt freshman attacker Owen Van Arsdale has been equally impressive, however, scoring two goals in each of his first three career games and playing a major role on an attack which has confounded the opposition's defenses so far.
"I feel like we always have the ability to have some guys come in and do a good job," Briggs said of Van Arsdale's fast start.
Meanwhile, senior goalkeeper Rob Fortunato continues to be a strong presence between the pipes for the Cavaliers. Aided by the steady defense of Lovejoy and sophomore defenseman Scott McWilliams, Fortunato saved a career-high 14 shots against Stony Brook, saying the team's work ethic is the secret to his back line's success.
Nevertheless, Virginia's opening trio of games have exposed some potential weaknesses. Even though the Cavaliers won the ground ball battle Saturday 35-31, they looked flustered at times when trying to scoop the ball up. The faceoff crew has also struggled, converting just 33-of-70 faceoffs this season, and the offense has sputtered in the opening minutes before eventually finding its groove in each of its last two games.
"We're going to have to clean things up a little bit, sort of at both ends of the field," Starsia said. "I don't think we picked the ball up as cleanly as we needed to."
Mount St. Mary's garnered national attention in its first game of the season, upsetting No. 16 Delaware 12-10 Saturday. Junior midfielder Daniel Stranix led the Mountaineers with three goals to balance sophomore goalkeeper Chris Klaiber's standout 13-save performance in the cage. Virginia leads the all-time series 9-0 and trampled Mount St. Mary's 22-6 in 2011.
The players are pleased with the work they've put in during the early portion of the season, but they think the best is yet to come.
"We're taking it one game at a time. I think we are going to have a tough week of practice, and just prepare ourselves as best we can," Briggs said. "I think each week we're getting better and better."
The action starts 4 p.m today.