After a heartbreaking 9-8 loss in overtime against No. 12 Syracuse that ended its four-game season-opening win streak, the No. 9 Virginia men’s lacrosse team will look to bounce back against Vermont Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium before No. 3 Cornell visits Charlottesville Saturday.
The Cavaliers (4-1) delivered their lowest offensive output of the season against Syracuse (2-1), scoring only eight goals after coming in averaging 15.5 per game. The lack of firepower stems partially from the team’s measly 38 shots, which pales in comparison to its 55.5 shots per game average entering Friday.
“[Shooting more is] something that we stressed over the course of the offseason,” junior midfielder Rob Emery said. “With the rule changes that came along this year, we wanted to play a little more up-tempo, and move from shooting somewhere in the [range of] 30 shots per game, closer to the 50s.”
But even before the game’s first faceoff, Virginia coach Dom Starsia predicted the matchup would be low scoring, given the strength of the teams’ defenses and the two offenses both searching for identities.
“The coaches understand that it’s an early-season game,” Starsia said. “We still don’t even know our teams that well, and so it tends to be a little bit more of a players’ game more than it might be later on in the year, and the kids take advantage of that.”
Junior attackman Mark Cockerton and Emery led Virginia with two goals each, while senior midfielder Matt White tallied one goal and the squad’s lone assist of the game — an astounding figure considering the team entered the contest assisting on 63 percent of its goals. Junior attackman Nick O’Reilly, who led the Cavaliers with 19 points entering the contest, was held scoreless by the Orange defense. Cockerton now leads the Virginia offense with 19 goals and one assist.
“We still really don’t know quite who we are offensively in every instance,” Starsia said. “O’Reilly, Cockerton, [redshirt sophomore attackman Owen] Van Arsdale, [freshman attackman James] Pannell in particular, they need to continue to grow.”
Pannell, who had recorded at least one point in the last three games and six total on the season, took only one shot and also failed to register a point against the Orange. Van Arsdale recorded one goal, his lowest point total and his first game without an assist in 2013.
Tuesday’s matchup against Vermont (1-3) may provide an opportunity for the Virginia attack unit to get back on track against respectable competition. Despite their uninspiring record, the Catamounts defeated a Bryant team coached by former Duke head coach Mike Pressler and played No. 15 Colgate tough for most of the game before falling behind 13-7.
The game may also supply senior midfielder Chris LaPierre more game-speed action before Saturday’s faceoff against Cornell. LaPierre played against Syracuse after being held out for three games with a sprained knee but mustered just one shot, one groundball and one caused turnover in the loss. In a sport that now places more value than ever on two-way players, Virginia sorely misses the production of its lone captain on both ends of the field.
“He really wants to play,” Starsia said. “If you said to me before the season, ‘Pick one player that could take advantage of these new rules,’ it would be Chris LaPierre. So I think, essentially, we don’t have our best player yet.”
Vermont, coming off a 2-12 season, is coached by former Cavalier standout defender Ryan Curtis. A two-time All-American and captain during his time at Virginia, Curtis was named the 1999 NCAA Defenseman of the Year and led his team to a national championship victory against Syracuse the same year.
Tuesday’s matchup will mark the sixth consecutive season that Virginia has hosted the Catamounts. The Cavaliers boast a 5-0 record all-time in the series and defeated Vermont 16-10 in 2012, the closest margin of victory ever between the two squads. Attackman Chris Bocklet and Emery led the 2012 assault with four goals each, while Cockerton recorded three and attackman Steele Stanwick dished out seven assists.
In a game many expect Virginia to win by a comfortable margin, Starsia will likely play a substantial portion, if not the entirety, of his roster.
“We have a lot of younger talent,” junior defender Scott McWilliams said. “We’re comfortable with anyone stepping in. We feel that everyone can get the job done, as long as we’re talking.”
Regardless of the opponent, however, Starsia’s message remains the same.
“We need to get better every day,” Starsia said. “We just don’t have a day to waste.”