Women's lacrosse starts season with top-10 matchup
Cavaliers hope to carry momentum from late season run in 2013
The Virginia women’s lacrosse team opens up its season this weekend against Northwestern as players strive for another appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Despite a late surge into the NCAA tournament for the 18th consecutive season, Virginia’s 2013 season was still largely disappointing by the team’s standards. The Cavaliers finished just 11-10, including 1-4 in the conference, and dropped several heartbreakers, losing four games by just a single goal.
The Cavaliers finished the season on a positive note, however, upsetting Duke in the first round of the ACC tournament before falling to Maryland, eventual ACC champions.
Virginia then advanced to the quarterfinals in the NCAA tournament, nearly eliminating an eight-goal deficit to pull the comeback against North Carolina, who would later edge out Maryland for the national championship. The momentum built from such a strong finish to last season has coach Julie Myers confident in this year’s team.
“I think we did build a lot of momentum going into the postseason last year,” Myers said. “Really starting at the end of April, we got players healthy and they got their energy and their mojo going. We’ve got all the right pieces in place and the right players, so we’re looking forward to getting this year started.”
The Cavaliers will return the majority of their offensive firepower this season, especially on attack. Returning players account for 193 of the 220 goals scored last year — almost 88 percent. Bringing back that kind of experience and production bodes well for a team seeking its sixth conference and fourth national title.
On the attack unit, the leader will be junior Casey Bocklet, who led Virginia in goals with 44, assists with 23 and points with 67 last season. She earned third team All-American honors for her efforts, and has been named to the preseason All-ACC team — the only Cavalier on the list. The Cavaliers also return their next two scoring leaders, senior Ashlee Warner and junior Courtney Swan.
“I think that’s a key this year,” Bocklet said. “For most of us, last year was our first year playing [together]. I think this year, everyone on the attack is a threat and no one’s scared to go to the goal. That’s pretty deadly if you’re playing against us, so it should be really fun and exciting for us.”
Defensively, Virginia will have to make several adjustments, with Megan Dunleavy, a former captain, All-ACC selection and Tewaaraton finalist, graduating after last season. She leaves a large hole both in production and in leadership in the middle of the Cavalier defense.
Meanwhile senior Liz Colgan will replace graduated Kim Kolarik in goal. Colgan gained valuable experience last season, starting seven games while Kolarik recovered from a broken hand, but will face the challenge of orchestrating the Cavalier defense on a daily basis. Myers, however, does not see this turnover as an impediment to success.
“Obviously Megan [Dunleavy] and Kim [Kolarik] were two big anchors for our defense, but I do think that we’ve had a whole fall and a preseason to get ready,” Myers said. “It’s nice to have that fall to really put the pieces in place, and Liz has definitely done a nice job tending the net. We’re excited to see how it all comes together.”
Virginia boasts the No. 3 freshman class this season, according to Inside Lacrosse Magazine. Four of the class’ seven members were ranked as top-25 recruits. Myers expects early contributions from the heralded first years.
“Maggie Preas is going to be a standout defender,” Myers said. “Her game is far and away beyond her years. She’s a great shutdown defender and a great anticipative defender. Posey Valis is going to help us on the midfield as well as Sarah Crowley. Three of our first-year kids right out of the gate are going to be main contributors for us, and the others I don’t think are too far behind.”
The ACC schedule will not get any easier this season, especially with the addition of former Big East team powerhouse Syracuse to the conference. Despite Virginia’s No. 8 ranking in the preseason poll, they have been selected to finish fifth in the ACC behind North Carolina, Maryland, Syracuse and Duke, respectively.
“It’s crazy how tough the conference is, but I think it’s only going to make us play better,” Bocklet said. “I think when you play against tougher teams, it elevates your play that much more. It’s going to help us and definitely help when we’re going down the line at the end of the season into tournament play.”
Last Saturday, in the final preparations for the opener, Virginia scrimmaged Navy in Charlottesville. Although treated as a practice without official statistics, the Cavaliers dominated the Midshipmen in all facets of the game.
The performance will likely give Virginia confidence as it opens the season Sunday against No. 4 Northwestern. The Cavaliers fell to the Wildcats, 11-6, last season, but Virginia is riding high after a successful offseason and is anxious for the official commencement of the season.
“We’re excited,” Bocklet said. “Just playing Navy gave us that confidence that we need, that we are a strong team and we can compete. We’re just looking to stick it to them.”