Virginia men’s lacrosse coach Dom Starsia is on the verge of another historic season, though not in the way anyone intended. Starsia has only missed the NCAA tournament once during his tenure as Virginia’s head coach, and this season has the potential to become another blemish on an otherwise stellar record. For the Cavaliers to make the NCAA tournament, they must win every game they play from this point forward, starting with Saturday’s matchup against Bellarmine.
The Cavaliers (5-7, 0-3 ACC) come into Saturday on a six-game losing streak, the longest in Starsia’s time in Charlottesville. Sitting two games under .500, the Cavaliers risk losing their NCAA tournament qualification unless they find a win against the Knights (7-4, 3-4 East Coast Athletic Conference).
“We keep putting in so much effort in practice … and it doesn’t all translate into the games,” sophomore midfielder Ryan Tucker said. “But most of it does and I feel like week-in and week-out it’s translating more and more into the games, and I think this week coming up is going to be our big week.”
Offensively, the Cavaliers match up well with Bellarmine. Virginia scores almost 12 goals per game, while the Knights score almost 10 per game. Bellarmine boasts a 0.280 shot percentage and 0.648 shot on goal percentage while the Cavaliers only post 0.255 and 0.533 percent, respectively. The team knows that a key to its success will be figuring out its problems with accuracy.
“We just have to figure out a way to break out of that,” Starsia said. “We’re trying to work on that without badgering the kids about it, so that we start to feel better about that, a little more determined about scoring.”
But offense may be rather difficult to produce against the staunch Bellarmine defense. The Knights’ defensive roster has produced strong numbers this season, with a meager 7.45 goals allowed per game, compared to the 10.75 goals allowed per game by the Virginia squad. The Bellarmine defense is led by senior goalkeeper Dillon Ward. Ward is one of the top ranked goalkeepers in the nation, accumulating 165 saves and a 0.688 save percentage at this point in the season.
Virginia’s recent struggles may not be an accurate reflection of its level of effort. Four of the team’s seven losses have been by 2 goals or fewer, and last Friday’s 19-16 loss to Duke came only after a furious fourth-quarter rally by the Blue Devils. Virginia is first in the nation with 39.17 ground balls per game — often an indicator of success — and far outnumber Bellarmine’s 26.27 per game.
The implications of Saturday’s’ game are not to be understated — a loss would end any postseason hopes — but Starsia is careful not to let his players feel unappreciated for their work this season.
“I come out here every day excited to see these guys, and we’ve had good energy on the practice field,” Starsia said. “There’s no point in me making their lives miserable when I do feel like they’re working at it and we’re moving in a positive direction. They’re doing what we’re asking them to do and they also understand that we have to find ways for us to get better for us to get where we want to get to.”
Even with their recent struggles, the Cavaliers still believe in their process, and they are hoping they can put their work to use against the Knights.
“We’ve been getting better every single game,” Tucker said. “I think that we just have to keep playing hard in practice and in the games. . . and we’ll get a win this [weekend].”