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REKULAPELLI: Why Virginia women’s lacrosse is poised to return to the pinnacle of the sport

After struggling on the ACC and national stages in the past decade, a seasoned squad and a strong recruiting class could vault the Cavaliers back into national prominence

<p>Virginia women's lacrosse hasn't won an NCAA title since 2004 and an ACC tournament championship since 2008 — streaks they hope to break in the coming years.&nbsp;</p>

Virginia women's lacrosse hasn't won an NCAA title since 2004 and an ACC tournament championship since 2008 — streaks they hope to break in the coming years. 

When hearing lacrosse and Virginia in the same sentence, many Cavalier fans immediately turn their minds to the seven-time and defending national champion Virginia men’s lacrosse team. However, what some fail to recognize is the equally impressive resume of Virginia women’s lacrosse, holder of nine national championship appearances and three national championship wins. The women’s lacrosse squad has made the NCAA tournament 25 straight times under Coach Julie Myers, and in the mid-2000s was a force in the national lacrosse scene, competing in four national championships from 2003 to 2007. 

Yet as of late, Virginia has relinquished its throne to the likes of rivals Maryland and North Carolina, in-state foe James Madison and ACC opponent Boston College. In sharp contrast to their half-decade of success, the Cavaliers haven’t reached the NCAA semifinals since 2014 and haven’t won an ACC tournament since 2008. 

Nonetheless, after nearly six years of first- and second-round NCAA exits — and an underwhelming 2020 campaign — Virginia women’s lacrosse looks set for a resurgence in the coming seasons, combining a mature core with a stellar 2020 recruiting class. 

Junior attacker Lillie Kloak is one of the key pieces of this mature core, having received quality playing time since arriving in Charlottesville. The New Jersey native has played in all of Virginia’s 28 games since 2019, scoring 45 goals and netting eight hat tricks, and looks to be an even more refined scorer come the 2021 season. 

Kloak will line up with junior midfielder Annie Dyson, who was a 2018 Under Armour and U.S. Lacrosse All-American coming out of high school, where she led her team to a Virginia state championship. Dyson has struggled with injuries throughout her time at Virginia, tearing her ACL against William & Mary in her freshman season and missing the last three games of an abbreviated 2020 season due to injury. However, during her limited action, Dyson was a Swiss Army knife for the Cavaliers, tallying eight goals and seven assists across 10 starts, while also winning 18 ground balls. Overall, if Dyson stays healthy and Kloak continues to develop her shot, the duo is slated to be a potent one-two punch this season. 

The Cavaliers also boast an improved defense with the addition of graduate transfer defender Meredith Chapman, who started in all of her four seasons at High Point. Chapman rewrote the record books during her time with the Panthers, holding the record for single-season and single-game caused turnovers and helping High Point advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in its history. Joining Chapman in steadying the defense is senior goalkeeper Charlie Campbell, who has started 27 games across the past two seasons. In 2019 and 2020 Campbell ranked first and third, respectively, in the ACC in saves per game, and she will be a force to be reckoned with in the 2021 season. 

However, the icing on the cake is the arrival of one of Virginia’s best recruiting classes in recent years, which will set up the program for years to come. After securing just one top-50 recruit in 2019, the Cavaliers bring in five top-35 recruits in the 2020 class — equalling North Carolina and Boston College combined. 

Highlighting the class is Inside Lacrosse’s No. 12 overall recruit, freshman attacker Morgan Schwab, who was a 2019 US Lacrosse All-American. Myers was effusive in her praise of Schwab, citing her ability to both coordinate the offense and use her athleticism to dodge towards the goal. While Schwab will certainly take time to get her feet under her, the support of veterans Dyson and Kloak will make her transition to high-level Division I lacrosse smoother. 

Another key recruit is freshman midfielder Mackenzie Hoeg, sister of Cavalier sophomore attacker Riley Hoeg and North Carolina senior attacker Katie Hoeg — who was Inside Lacrosse’s 2020 co-National Player of the Year. Beyond Hoeg’s remarkable pedigree is her ability to facilitate while also serving as a scoring threat like Dyson and her older sister Katie. Look for Hoeg to get minutes early and often and potentially join Katie in the women’s lacrosse record books by her senior season. 

Further shoring up the midfield is freshman Maggie Bostain, a two-time U.S. Lacrosse All-American known for her blinding speed. Bostain’s speed will help the Cavaliers with escaping the ride and setting up goals in transition for Schwab and Kloak, especially against elite defensive teams like Duke, who last season ranked first in the ACC in turnovers caused and gave Virginia a bevy of offensive trouble in 2020

Overall, Virginia women’s lacrosse looks on course for a bounce-back 2021 season, combining a strong veteran presence with a plethora of new offensive firepower courtesy of the 2020 recruiting class. Furthermore, while recent powerhouses like North Carolina and Boston College look poised for NCAA semifinal appearances — at the least — this season, the Cavaliers are ready to present some tough competition.

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