If there is one trademark of a Dom Starsia coached lacrosse team, it is a vaunted offense. Relatively recent names such as Matt Ward and Steele Stanwick have cemented Tewaaraton-worthy resumes in the orange and blue, while countless others have graced All-Conference and All-American lists.
But entering 2015, the Cavalier attack lacked its signature starpower. With the graduation of Mark Cockerton – who scored 47 goals last season – Starsia did not anticipate one person shouldering the load, but rather a collective effort to carry his offense that finished 12th nationally in scoring last season.
Still, there is no doubt who the leader of that retooled offense will be — senior attackman Owen Van Arsdale.
The fifth-year senior makes up for what he lacks in size with his leadership off the field and his savviness on the field, and his consistency earned him his teammates’ votes as one of the squad’s four captains in 2015.
“When we’ve had him out there, the offense has always flowed through him,” Starsia said. “He’s always been the smartest kid on the block — he doesn’t make a lot of mistakes.”
And come Saturday, Starsia will look for that steadiness as No. 9 Virginia (1-0) looks to start the season with a two-game win streak as it takes on No. 18 Drexel (0-0) in the Dragons’ season opener.
Van Arsdale – rated as the No. 28 attackman out of high school – did not initially burst onto the Virginia scene. He redshirted in 2011 while stars such as Stanwick and Chris Bocklet led Virginia to a national championship.
But the Charlottesville native — and son of coach Marc Van Arsdale — found himself thrust into action in 2012. He started all 14 regular season games, but experienced the highs and lows of an underclassman, as he found himself in and out of the lineup as the games progressed.
In 2013, his role was reduced, as Van Arsdale only started 10 games. It was not until last season that Van Arsdale found stability in his playing time.
Serving as the distributor behind the cage, he led Virginia with 27 assists — 11 more than his next teammate. And this year, Van Arsdale will slide over to his more natural position on the left wing and assume a more goal-scoring oriented role.
As now the oldest member of the Virginia men’s lacrosse team, Van Arsdale naturally took on the captain duty in a season where the Cavaliers will likely deal with youthful miscues, as he knows the trials and tribulations they will encounter.
“They’re going to make mistakes, but part of my job and the other leaders on the team’s job is to support them through those mistakes,” Van Arsdale said.
However, the errors were few and far between Saturday when Virginia took down No. 7 Loyola, 13-12.
Junior midfielder Greg Coholan earned ACC Offensive Player of the Week honors for netting four goals and adding an assist. Meanwhile, in their first year as full-time starters, sophomore midfielder Zed Williams tallied three goals and two assists and sophomore attackman Ryan Lukacovic put up two goals and two assists.
In his unassuming style, Van Arsdale — the lone senior attackman — tallied just one goal. But his lack of numbers in the box score is not a slight against his play, but rather a testament to the improvement of the relatively inexperienced offense he continues to lead.
“[The young players] are competing for roles right away,” Van Arsdale said. “They don’t take anything for granted.”
And that same ambitious mindset paid dividends on the defensive end of the field against the Greyhounds. Virginia started three new close-defenders — two of whom were freshmen. But it was the senior who was most lauded for his performance.
Davi Sacco — a former walk-on who had appeared in just nine career games before Saturday — was named the ACC Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts guarding Loyola All-American senior attackman Nikko Pontrello, whom Sacco limited to just one goal and two assists.
Like Van Arsdale, the 5-foot 10-inch, 165-pound Fayetteville, New York native did not light up the stat sheet — his only mention is a 1:00 slashing penalty in the fourth quarter. But his solid day gives hope to a defensive group that was subject to unprecedented turnover for Starsia and his staff.
“There is no question we have some new players in key spots, but we do have comfort in who those guys are and how they prepare themselves,” Starsia said. “I think we’re ready to go.”
Playing at home this weekend, the Cavaliers appear to be the favorites against Drexel. The Dragons — who last fell against Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals — will likely be prone to errors in their first game of the season.
Opening against Virginia again this season, Drexel is still looking for its first win against Virginia in the series since 2007. And thanks in part to Van Arsdale’s leadership, the Cavaliers seem poised to extend their win streak.
“You have fresh faces on the field that haven’t been there before, but they’re quick learners,” Van Arsdale said. “We’re really confident in them.”
Opening face-off is scheduled for Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Klöckner Stadium.