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Men's lacrosse kicks off title defense

In men's college lacrosse, a sport in which less than 10 teams have legitimate championship aspirations, the burden of defending the national title is a heavy one. Every season the same handful of teams claws toward the NCAA Finals, all with hopes of dethroning the reigning champs.

The 2000 Cavaliers appear to be up to the task.

Ranked No. 1 in the preseason, the Cavs begin their title defense against the team they beat to win the national crown. Virginia hosts No. 2 Syracuse tomorrow at 2 p.m. in Klöckner Stadium in a rematch of last season's NCAA Final.

Seven starters from last season's team will lead the Cavaliers against the Orangemen, including a pair of first-team All-American seniors - midfielder Jay Jalbert and defender Ryan Curtis.

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  • The biggest challenge for the Cavaliers this year will be replacing attackman Tucker Radebaugh. The 1999 ACC Player of the Year, who begins his first season as an assistant to Virginia Coach Dom Starsia, was a two-time team MVP and three-time recipient of the team leadership award.

    "I don't think that you fill the void that Tucker leaves us with any one player," said Starsia, last season's ACC Coach of the Year. "For him to win our team leadership award three years in a row is very unusual."

    Senior attackman Drew McKnight, one of the returning stars Starsia will count on, agreed that the loss of Radebaugh is immense.

    "I don't think you're going to replace Tucker with one or two people," said McKnight, a preseason third-team All-American. "I think the whole team has to shoulder a little more of the burden. It's definitely a big loss."

    McKnight will be joined on the attack by sophomores Conor Gill and Ian Shure. Gill, last season's ACC Rookie of the Year and NCAA Tournament MVP, is the team's leading returning point scorer, with 22 goals and 30 assists last year. Starsia said Gill should be looking to score more this season.

    "I think that Conor has a gift with his eyes and his hands," Starsia said. "He sees guys that are open and can give them the ball, so he gets labeled as [a passer]. He wants his game to be viewed as more complete than that, and he'll complete that by going to the goal more recklessly."

    In goal, sophomore Derek Kenney, who last season became the first freshman goalie to win a national title since 1987, returns to serve as the backbone of the Cav defense.

    "I think Derek's going to have a great year," Starsia said. "He's played better so far [in the preseason] than he did all last year."

    Kenney will have three returning starters in front of him in Curtis, sophomore Mark Koontz and fifth-year senior Court Weisleder. Curtis, the reigning National Defenseman of the Year, teams with Koontz to give the Cavaliers one of the best defensive duos in the nation.

    In the midfield, Jalbert, who won the McLaughlin Award last year as the nation's best middie, anchors a starting trio that also features senior David Bruce and junior Hanley Holcomb. Senior Peter Ragosa also will see time as the long-stick middie.

    "He's someone that, in the midfield, opens up the field for everybody else," Starsia said of Jalbert. "It doesn't matter who's covering him. It doesn't faze him at all."

    Senior Jason Hard and junior David Jenkins comprise one of the best face-off combinations in the country. Jenkins won 64.3 percent of his face-offs last year, second in the nation. Hard was close behind at 62.8 percent.

    With a host of rivals chomping at the bit to take out the new champions, the Cavaliers are eager to get to work defending their long-awaited title.

    "I even feel it myself," Starsia said. "I want to get through this thing and start getting ready for Syracuse and get ready to play our first game."

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