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No. 9 women’s lacrosse enters its 2020 campaign looking for a fourth national title

The Cavaliers look to rebound after falling in the NCAA quarterfinals last year

<p>Sammy Mueller will be expected to be a leader for Virginia women's lacrosse in 2020.</p>

Sammy Mueller will be expected to be a leader for Virginia women's lacrosse in 2020.

Virginia women’s lacrosse returns to the turf — ranked No. 9 nationally — following a 13-7 season in 2019 that ended in a tough loss in the national quarterfinals. The Cavaliers are led by Coach Julie Myers, who is going into her 25th year at the position and has both played and coached for championship-winning Virginia teams. 

A top-10 team, the Cavaliers will be seeking a title run after making it out of the NCAA tournament’s second round for the first time in four seasons last year. 

However, Virginia will first be facing tough competition within its own conference. The Cavaliers haven’t finished better than third in the ACC since 2010, and conference rivals North Carolina, Syracuse and Boston College all stand above them in the national rankings. 

One game that Virginia fans should be circling on their calendars is the Cavaliers’ home game against ACC foe No. 4 Syracuse March 14. The Cavaliers have lost to the Orange in nine of their last 10 matchups, including a loss in the ACC tournament last year. 

Another game to watch is when Virginia hosts No. 1 North Carolina Feb. 29. The Tar Heels knocked off the Cavaliers 14-7 in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament last year, and eventually fell in double overtime in the national semifinal against Boston College. 

Several notable players from Virginia’s previous season will not return, such as former Cavaliers Avery Shoemaker and Maggie Jackson. Jackson finished last season with 37 assists and 34 goals, making first team ACC, while Shoemaker led the Cavaliers in goals with 52. 

However, the Cavaliers are up for the challenge, with this year’s squad having a particularly interesting dichotomy — combining an untested defense with a more experienced attack. 

Tasked with replacing last year’s defensive trio of Sophie Alecce, Kaitlin Luzik and Allison Shields, the Cavaliers are expected to include walk-on junior Jalen Knight in this year’s starting defense. Knight played in four games her freshman year and was featured in nine games last year. 

Several injured players also return to Virginia’s lineup, including senior defender Lauren Martin, who missed the fall training period after surgery, and sophomore midfielder Annie Dyson, who suffered a knee injury after five games her freshman season. During those five games, Dyson tallied 10 points, 16 draw controls and eight ground balls and will be a player to watch on the field this year. 

Midfielder Sammy Mueller returns for her senior season coming off a junior year in which she led the Cavaliers in both points and caused turnovers. The Pelham, N.Y. native also posted a career-high 24 assists along with an ACC-leading 2.85 ground balls per game. She earned a spot on the All-ACC First Team in 2018 and, in 2019, was recognized as a Tewaaraton Award nominee — the honor is given annually to the most outstanding college lacrosse players in the nation.

Other returning players to watch include junior goalkeeper Charlie Campbell, whose position is expected to be challenged by freshman Aislinn McCarthy and junior defender Gwin Sinnot, who is expected to start for the Cavaliers this year after a career riddled with injuries. A notable freshman to watch is midfielder Kiki Shaw, a five-star recruit who played in the Under Armour All-American game over the summer. 

Virginia will open its season with four road games, facing No. 17 Navy, Stanford, California and No. 6 Princeton. The Cavaliers’ first home game will be against Richmond Feb. 26. 

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