Young squad craves success
In the coming weeks and months, the No. 8 Cavaliers will play out a regular season loaded with matchups against opponents harboring championship aspirations that mirror their own. Led by coach Julie Myers and a host of veterans eager for more than just an 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance, the Cavaliers will battle six of the seven teams currently sitting higher than them in the national rankings. Virginia will meet its first such foe, No. 6 Loyola (Md), Saturday in Baltimore. According to Myers, however, the Cavaliers are far from intimidated by the names on their docket.
“The goals would be to play for an ACC title and to get into the Final Four and then to, you know, just go after a national championship from there,” Myers said. “It’s going to be tough to do. I think there’s a lot of really, really good teams this year. But I like our team.”
Virginia begins 2013 as a mystery in the eyes of its competition. The Cavaliers lost their five leading scorers from last year’s 11-8 campaign, which ended in an 11-9 loss to No. 7 Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s first round. Josie Owens and Julie Gardner, who garnered All-American nods in their senior years, will be especially missed. With many of last season’s key players now gone, the Cavaliers will turn to their new group of upperclassmen for support.
“I think anybody that’s a fourth-year on our team needs to be a leader whether they’re starters or rotating through or even on the bench,” Myers said. “They’ve been through four years. They understand how hard it is to stay focused throughout the season and how hard it is to win … no matter what their role is on the game-day and where they’re standing, they need to be leaders for us.”
The team singled out seniors defender Megan Dunleavy and attack Caroline McTiernan for such leadership roles when choosing co-captains. Dunleavy brings a stabilizing presence to the Virginia back line, having started at defense every game for the past two seasons. McTiernan lacks her teammate’s in-game experience but does possess a wealth of knowledge with respect to the challenges of top-level lacrosse.
“Megan’s defense; I’m attack,” McTiernan said. “I think we’re going to try to be the voice on either side and keep it organized and keep our composure … our ultimate goal is to win, and I think that we’ll do anything we can to help the team to get that win.”
During the offseason, the Cavaliers received a welcome boost in the form of Northwestern transfer Casey Bocklet. The sophomore attack and sister of former men’s lacrosse star attack Chris Bocklet recorded 13 goals and 22 assists for Northwestern in 2012, helping the No. 1 Wildcats secure their seventh NCAA championship in eight years. The chemistry between Bocklet and junior attack Ashlee Warner was apparent in last Saturday’s scrimmages at the University of Pennsylvania.
The season-opener against Loyola provides the first of many opportunities to gauge the young Cavaliers’ progress. Last season, the Greyhounds captured their second straight Big East championship and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals. This year’s team is led by junior midfielder Marlee Paton, who racked up 90 points and earned first team All-American honors in 2012. Though Virginia lacks a scorer of Paton’s caliber, Myers believes her team will be just fine.
“The tough part of our team is that it’s unknown; it’s untested,” she said. “But that’s also kind of nice — that teams don’t really know what to expect. They don’t know how we play together. It’s a bunch of new names and new faces and new sticks in there … we believe in who we have and what they can do.”