No. 10 Virginia set for clash with Keydets
Cavaliers seek to maintain spotless record against VMI
The eighth-ranked Virginia men’s lacrosse team is back in action tonight, as VMI comes to Charlottesville. The Cavaliers have never lost a game to this in-state foe, owning a spotless 20-0 record with an average margin of victory of more than 17 goals going back to 1949.
After a small mid-season stumble in which Virginia dropped back-to-back games against then-No. 4 Cornell and then-No. 8 Notre Dame, the Cavaliers (7-2, 1-1 ACC) bounced back in an emphatic fashion Saturday by defeating the talented Johns Hopkins squad in overtime.
The game took place in virtually the same place in the schedule as last year, as the Blue Jays awaited Virginia in the midst of its first losing streak. However, last year the Cavaliers did not respond well to the adversity they faced, and Hopkins routed them 15-8. As a result, Virginia dropped four of its last six games to finish a disappointing 2013 campaign 7-8.
The 2014 Cavaliers were determined not to let history repeat itself. After staying down by two for much of the game, the Virginia defense — anchored by freshman goaltender Matt Barrett — dug in to allow just six shots in the final quarter and overtime combined. This staunch defense allowed for the Cavaliers’ potent offense to claw their way back into the game behind two goals from freshman attackman Ryan Lukacovic.
“This was a huge win because all week we’ve been preaching how this was the time last year when we went through our losing streak,” senior midfielder Bobby Hill said. “It was huge to get the Hopkins monkey off our back. Hopefully it’s a turning point for the rest of the season.”
Though the win undoubtedly boosted the team’s confidence, they must tighten up various aspects of their game if they hope to fulfill their national championship dreams. A particularly disturbing trend this season is Virginia’s tendency to give up long runs to its opposition. In its recent two-game losing streak, Virginia gave up a run of nine unanswered goals to the Big Red and a 9-3 stretch in the fourth quarter to Notre Dame.
Thanks in large-part to a 16 save performance from Barrett, Virginia was able to prevent any large spurts from the Blue Jays. The freshman has performed admirably this season, posting a 46 save percentage and giving up less than 12 goals per game. If Barrett continues his strong play between the pipes, it will be a tough task for the Keydets (1-8, 0-2 A-Sun) to finally get in the win column against the Cavaliers.
“We just need to keep building,” Barrett said. ”We’ve made some mistakes — everybody did. I did, defense, offense, everybody, so we need to learn from those mistake and just watch film and get better.”
On the opposite side of the field, VMI will have to answer to one of the country’s most dangerous offenses. The Cavaliers are led by senior attackman Mark Cockerton, whose 30 goals are the most in all of Division I lacrosse. Following closely behind is sophomore attackman James Pannell, who has tallied 26 times in Virginia’s first nine games.
Conversely, the Keydets’ offense is struggling mightily thus far, and they have yet to score double-digit goals in a game this season. Senior attackman Mickey Hofmeister boasts 14 goals to lead VMI, and no other player has reached the 10-goal plateau.
Despite these offensive woes, Virginia must take VMI seriously in order to focus on its trip to No. 1 Maryland March 30. A loss to the Keydets would be devastating in terms of national rankings for Virginia and the momentum gained by defeating quality opponents like Johns Hopkins and Syracuse.
“We know what can happen in this game, they always come in and fight hard,” Hill said. “We know we need to bring our best.”
The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium.