Squad hosts No. 3 Orange
Top-ranked Cavaliers play Syracuse Sunday in early season marquee match-up
The match-up continues a series which has produced fireworks in recent years and is the Cavaliers' (4-0, 0-0 ACC) third of four games in a frantic ten days. After disposing of Stony Brook 12-5 last weekend and crushing Mount Saint Mary's 17-5 Tuesday, Virginia has Sunday's momentous clash before hosting Vermont two days later.
Coach Dom Starsia, however, believes his players will relish the opportunity to see so much game action.
"We schedule this purposefully," Starsia said. "It's a stretch that kind of worries the coaches more than it does the players. I told the players that this is kind of fun for them: Mostly we're suiting up and getting ready to play games."
After ousting Drexel in a 9-8 barn-burner during its season-opener, Virginia has barely broken a sweat against its last three opponents. Relying on the prolific scoring trio of senior attacker Steele Stanwick, senior attacker Chris Bocklet and redshirt senior midfielder Colin Briggs, the Cavalier attack has tallied 48 goals in its last three performances and regained much of its 2011 NCAA championship form.
The three All-Americans have led Virginia's offense during recent seasons, and Stanwick recently became just the seventh player in ACC history with 100 goals and 100 assists for his career.
"His greatest skill is that he makes the people around him better," Starsia said of Stanwick. "He's our trigger, and our offense is in good hands."
The defense has also stymied opposing offenses behind senior goalkeeper Rob Fortunato's surprisingly dominant beginning to his first campaign as the full-time starter in the cage. Amid speculation that Virginia would struggle to fill the shoes of departed senior starting keeper Adam Ghitelman, Fortunato has allowed just 19 goals in four games and boasts a whopping .648 save percentage, which exceeds Ghitelman's .535 mark in 2011.
Still, the Cavaliers have certainly not been flawless against their less-talented adversaries. Virginia allowed both VMI and Stony Brook to gain early first-quarter leads, has converted just 5-of-12 extra man opportunities, and fumbled a number of ground balls. With the quality of competition ramping up this weekend, the Cavaliers know they need to curtail their mistakes to continue winning.
"We have to sharpen things up," redshirt junior defender Matt Lovejoy said. "We have to continue to roll... we've got to be ready to go."
Syracuse (2-0, 0-0 Big East) is coming off a bittersweet 2011 campaign in which the team stormed its way to a 14-1 regular season record and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament before faltering 6-5 to eventual runners-up Maryland in the quarter-final. Despite the return of a talented roster this year, including stud junior attacker JoJo Marasco and senior attacker Tommy Palasek, the team has struggled to eke past non-ranked foes during its first two match-ups. During its most recent triumph against Army, Syracuse needed a last-second save from sophomore goalie Dominic Lamolinara to preserve a 10-9 nailbiter win.
If the recent series history is any indication, however, the Orange should still prove a formidable nemesis for Virginia. The Cavaliers hold a tenuous 14-13 edge in the all-time series, and each of the last four games between the teams has been decided by two points or less. Last year's high-octane back-and-forth thriller at the Carrier Dome ended in a 12-10 triumph for Syracuse.
"In my five years here, we've always had good ones with them, so I'm really excited," Lovejoy said.
Starsia acknowledged the need for heavy-duty activity from the coaching staff during this jam-packed portion of the schedule, but he is putting the onus on his players to prepare themselves mentally for a fellow championship contender Sunday.
"It's their responsibility to get emotionally prepared to play," Starsia said. "The kids generally handle this okay."
ESPN will broadcast the contest, which starts 4:30 p.m. Sunday.