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Lacrosse teams start runs at ACC titles

This weekend the Virginia men's lacrosse team travels to the ACC Tournament at College Park, Md. to take the next step in their NCAA championship defense.

The No. 1 Cavs (8-1, 3-0 ACC) have had their minds on the conference tournament since the final whistle blew in their 12-7 victory over No. 6 Duke last Saturday. When they face fourth-seeded North Carolina at 5 p.m. today, Virginia's year-long wait to play for its second-straight conference championship will come an end.

"As soon as the game was over, we started thinking about the tournament," senior midfielder Jay Jalbert said. "For the first round, we're going to concentrate on North Carolina. We're just taking it one game at a time. Hopefully, this will be the first feather in our cap."

Virginia captured the tournament's top seed by going undefeated in conference play. In addition to besting three top-10 conference foes - No. 6 Duke, No. 9 Maryland and No. 10 North Carolina - the Cavs also defeated No. 4 Princeton and No. 8 Johns Hopkins to earn the nation's top ranking. After the Duke game, however, Virginia coach Dom Starsia said the Cavs' lofty ranking won't help them in the tournament.

"This makes our work [this] weekend tougher," Starsia said. "Having beaten these three teams, then having to turn around a week later and play them in the tournament is a really tough assignment."

The Cavs' first-round opponent is fourth-seeded North Carolina (7-4, 0-3), a team Virginia defeated handily April 8 on the road, 13-7. Though they have lost the rest of their ACC games, the Tar Heels are not to be taken lightly. The Heels' lone top-10 win came March 4 against No. 10 Navy.

"These guys definitely want another shot at us," junior midfielder Hanley Holcomb said of the Tar Heels. "Against North Carolina, we played a good game - not a great game - and we can play better."

The Tar Heels know they likely need to win the ACC title this weekend to be invited to the 12-team NCAA Tournament. If that weren't motivation enough, the Tar Heels may also be playing their last game today under coach Dave Klarmann, who is retiring at the end of the season.

If the Cavs survive the Heels, they will face the winner of the game between second-seeded Duke (8-3, 2-1), and third-seeded Maryland (7-3, 1-2). Virginia handled both teams during the regular season, defeating the Terps 13-4 on the road without the services of star defenseman Ryan Curtis and besting the Devils 12-7 at home last weekend to win the ACC regular season title.

The Cavalier defense has stepped up its play in ACC games this year and have allowed only one individual player to score more than two goals. While Duke's T.J. Durnan, the ACC's leading goal scorer, tallied four goals against the Cavs last Saturday, high-scoring attackmen such as North Carolina's Chase Martin, Maryland's Mike Mollot and Duke's Jared Frood have been held scoreless. Virginia leads the conference with a stingy 7.22 goals-against average.

Curtis, the captain of the ACC's top defense, said teams step up their intensity at tournament time.

"It's tough, no matter what happens in the regular season," Curtis said. "The games are always closer, everyone plays a lot harder, everyone looks forward to it. It should be fun."