Virginia looks to turn season around
No. 6 Cavaliers take on James Madison
The first few weeks of the 2014 season have proved to be a difficult challenge for Virginia. The Cavaliers, faced with one of the nation’s toughest schedules, lost four games against top-10 ranked opponents, including multiple in which the opponent’s second half run sunk a chance for a Virginia victory.
Now in a relatively softer stretch of the schedule, No. 6 Virginia (3-5, 0-2 ACC) will look to right the ship against James Madison (4-3, 0-0 CAA) Wednesday in Charlottesville, Va. The Dukes will be the second opponent Virginia has faced from the Colonial Athletic Conference, following the Cavaliers’ dominating 22-9 victory against William & Mary last Wednesday.
Sitting at 2-4 heading into last week, Virginia had hoped to use a three-game stretch against teams not considered to be national powerhouses – William & Mary, Princeton and James Madison – to get its season back on track. After taking care of business against William & Mary, the Cavaliers were upset on Saturday against Princeton, losing 15-13. However, the team is still confident it can turn its season around.
“Before practice [Monday] we watched film of our game against Princeton and saw the things that we needed to fix,” senior midfielder Maddy Keeshan said. “In practice [Monday], our energy was really high and we really tried to pinpoint those things that we worked on in film. I think it was definitely a tough loss on Saturday, but we’ve learned from it and are excited to get back out there on Wednesday.”
Though James Madison might not appear to be too much of a challenge, especially because of its current two-game losing streak, the Dukes have played their best lacrosse against ranked competition this season. Although they lost against No. 4 Florida in February, James Madison notched two consecutive wins against top-10 opponents to begin March, upsetting No. 16 Loyola — a team that defeated Virginia — and No. 11 Penn State.
The Dukes present a balanced offensive attack, boasting five players with double-figure points on the season. Their go-to scorer is junior attacker Stephanie Finley, who leads the team with 28 points on 19 goals and nine assists. In addition, Finley leads James Madison with 31 draw controls.
“They’ve got great speed,” coach Julie Myers said. “We played them in the fall and I think they beat us by one [goal]. They’re good and we’re going to have our hands full for sure. We really need to focus on our game plan and how we’re going to play.”
Virginia has had success against James Madison in recent years, winning 11 of the past 13 meetings, including a 10-3 victory in Harrisonburg, Va. last year.
In that contest, Virginia won 11 of 14 draws and outshot the Dukes 30-12. Junior midfielder Morgan Stephens had three goals and an assist, while junior attacker Courtney Swan scored five points with two goals and three assists. However, the Cavaliers’ new, more aggressive offensive approach limits what they can take from last season’s victory heading into Wednesday.
“Definitely our energy was high, but we’re kind of a different team this year,” Keeshan said. “I think looking at our game on Saturday and pulling together all the pieces this year will help more than looking at last year. Our energy was definitely high [last year against JMU], so that’s something we can take.”
The Virginia offense has a chance to shine against an often-porous defense in James Madison. The Cavaliers average more than 14 goals per game on 32 shots. Meanwhile, the James Madison defense, led by junior goalkeeper Schylar Healy, surrenders approximately 12 goals per game and makes less than seven saves per game. Meyers hopes her team can take advantage of the matchup.
“A lot of it starts off of our defense,” Myers said. “We need to be aggressive there to be able to come up with loose balls and then transition fast. We were able to do the defense and then the transition and then [Tuesday] we’ll put it together with the attack and actually scoring goals.”
The game is important as Myers and Virginia build toward the ACC tournament. After Wednesday, the Cavaliers will face at least three more ranked opponents in Notre Dame, Boston College and Maryland before the conference tournament in late April. A win would give Virginia much needed confidence as it prepares for the second half of its season, while a loss would create an even larger obstacle for the Cavaliers to surpass.
“We need to just kind of regain our balance a little bit,” Myers said. “… Even though we’ve come up with a bunch of losses, more often than not we’ve left the game saying ‘we got better today.’ So I’m really hoping that builds our foundation — not looking back too much and not looking too far forward, just making sure that every day we take care of the ball and we take care of getting better and we take care of each other.”
The opening draw is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium.