After dropping its fifth straight game last Saturday in a 10-7 loss to No. 3 North Carolina, the Virginia men’s lacrosse team finds itself unranked for the first time since 2004 and in desperate need of a win as the Cavaliers close out their conference schedule on the road Friday against No. 7 Duke.
The Cavaliers’ (5-6, 0-2 ACC) historic five-game losing streak is the longest in coach Dom Starsia’s 21-year tenure at Virginia. The last time a Cavalier team lost six straight games dates back to the 1960s, when the team dropped its final game of the 1965 season and lost the first five of the subsequent season. Despite the threat of becoming only the second Starsia-led Virginia team to finish the season with a losing record, the players remain optimistic.
“Our thoughts really aren’t directed toward the losing streak at all,” junior defenseman Scott McWilliams said. “We have to keep coming out each and every day and keep the positivity up. Duke’s a great team and we’re going to focus all our attention on them … and go out and execute Friday.”
The Cavaliers outshot the Tar Heels 51-32 last weekend, but were stonewalled by freshman goaltender Kieran Burke, who saved a career-best 23 shots. Senior attackman Marcus Holman led the way against the Virginia defense, scoring three goals and three assists. Holman and Burke’s performances garnered ACC Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week honors, respectively.
“Personally I have to shoot a little better,” sophomore midfielder Ryan Tucker said. “I think I can improve my shot selection and the quality of my shots. Kieran Burke … played really well, but I think we gave some to him.”
Friday’s opponent Duke was forced to sideline senior goaltender Dan Wigrizer, one of only six true freshman goalies to ever win an NCAA Championship, in early March for the season due to a history of concussions, but sophomore Kyle Turri has led the Blue Devils to seven consecutive victories since taking over the starting position. Turri has posted an impressive 8.05 goals against average and a .544 save percentage.
Against Duke, the Virginia defense will face another high-scoring ACC offense. The Blue Devils average 12.92 goals per game, ranking fifth nationally and behind only Maryland in the conference. They are led by junior attackman Jordan Wolf, who is tied for second in the nation with 33 goals and ranks sixth with 50 points. Freshman attackman Case Matheis is second on the team with 30 points on 17 goals and 13 assists, while junior Josh Dionne rounds out the attack unit with 22 goals and three assists.
Duke boasts firepower from the midfield as well, as senior David Lawson has scored 20 goals and seven assists, while fellow senior Josh Offit has tallied 18 goals and seven assists. Longstick midfielder Luke Duprey presents a danger in transition and his 29 caused turnovers — one more than McWilliams — are good for second in the nation.
“They’re a big, strong team,” Starsia said. “They run well everywhere, they handle the ball well in the offensive box. The conference has a bunch of teams that are good … but I think Duke may be the most athletic overall of the teams we’ve seen.”
Starsia, the all-time Division I wins leader with 346, will butt heads with John Danowski, who occupies the No. 3 ranking with 323. Although Virginia owns a 49-27 record in the all-time series, the team has not defeated Duke in its last four tries and has not won at Koskinen Stadium since 2003. Last year, the Blue Devils walloped the Cavaliers 13-5 at Klöckner Stadium behind four goals from Dionne and two goals and four assists from Wolf. However, the Cavaliers remain adamant that history will not play a factor in Friday’s matchup.
“Nope, no way,” Tucker said. “I don’t think anybody is thinking about the historic significance of having lost to them however many times in the past couple of games. It’s all about this team and this season right now and this game coming up, so hopefully we can just focus on that and get a win.”
For the Cavaliers to leave Durham with a win and salvage their chances at making the NCAA Tournament, Starsia believes the offense must step up. Virginia is shooting just .244 percent, compared to their allowed .314 shot percentage.
“We have to become a little more dangerous offensively,” Starsia said. “We’re actually playing pretty good team defense overall … and we’ve probably defended well enough to win. We’re generating a lot of shots … we have to put the ball in the back of the net.”
The key to success for Virginia may also come in the form of playing a complete game. In their last three losses, the Cavaliers have fallen into early deficits and had to battle back from behind late in games.
“We have to come out a little bit more fired up and get on the other team right out of the gates,” McWilliams said. “The past few weeks, that came back to bite us a little bit towards the end.”