As Virginia women’s lacrosse enters its 48th season, the program looks to improve from the past two seasons to earn a winning record. With new additions on offense, defense and even the coaching staff supplementing an already solid roster, the Cavaliers look poised for a strong season, even in the face of a difficult schedule.
Slated at No. 13 in the preseason polls, Virginia looks well-positioned for a highly competitive schedule. The ACC is historically a highly competitive conference, and this year is no different with six teams in the preseason top 20, the most of any conference. Four of these teams sit above Virginia – No. 1 North Carolina, No. 3 Boston College, No. 6 Syracuse and No. 11 Duke, three of which the Cavaliers will face on the road, making for a tricky regular season schedule.
The program is no stranger to success, whether in the regular or postseason. Coach Julie Myers, who is approaching her 28th season at the team’s helm, has brought the team to the playoffs in every year that they have been held, which is an achievement that no other Division 1 coach of the same tenure has earned.
However, in their last season, Virginia struggled with consistency. Ending 2022 with a 10-10 even record, the Cavaliers were unable to keep a winning streak higher than two games. Its spotty record is due largely in part to major injuries that left holes in Virginia’s leadership.
Ending the season with a crushing 2-24 loss against No. 1 North Carolina in only the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Cavaliers will be looking to bounce back this year. However, Myers is not one to shy away from a challenge.
“We are always excited to begin our season and compete with the best teams in the country,” Myers said. “Our non-conference schedule includes teams from the top conferences across the country. We will play eight NCAA tournament teams from 2022 and the ACC slate now has nine teams. To see our conference expand provides even more great competition and visibility for the sport.”
Myers recently brought in two new additions to Virginia’s coaching staff. Brittany Dipper, who will work with the defense and goalies, is a veteran coach, as well as a national champion in both field hockey and lacrosse. Her insights are sure to help strengthen the Cavaliers’ defensive line-up.
Ally Kennedy will also be joining the coaching staff to oversee the offense and draws. Kennedy, a younger coach who will bring relatability for the players, was a four-time All-American at Stony Brook and just recently won the Women’s Lacrosse World Championship gold medal as a member of Team USA.
Dipper’s veteran coaching experience and Kennedy’s fresh perspective could offer valuable insights that Virginia will need to navigate their tricky schedule.
Several notable returners color the roster, including graduate student attacker Ashlyn McGovern and sophomore attacker Rachel Clark, who were recently named Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-Americans.
McGovern, who is sure to offer strong leadership as a graduate student fixture on the team, is a third team selection. In addition to her veteran experience, she is a dominant figure on Virginia’s offense side, tallying 63 goals last season.
Similarly, Clark, who was named as an honorable mention, scored 64 goals in the spring, setting a single-season freshman program record and receiving the honor of ACC Rookie of the Year. She also was namedAll-ACC First Team in 2022.
Rounding out the Cavaliers’ offense is junior attacker Morgan Schwab, who led the team with 36 assists in 2022, in addition to tallying 21 goals.
Junior midfielder Aubrey Williams will return to taking the draw. She ranked 10th among draw-takers in the NCAA last year, averaging 7.45 draw controls per game. Williams crushed the program’s single-season draw control record, tallying 149 last season.
Supplementing Virginia’s roster, several new recruits will add speed to the Cavalier’s attack and depth to their defense. Myers picked up two transfers from Maryland, graduate student midfielder Darby Welsh and junior defender Kacy Hogarth. Both transfers will add speed to transitions in the field, despite seeing spotty playing time in College Park, Md.
Another transfer, graduate student Annika Meyer from Johns Hopkins picked up 44 ground balls and forced 26 turnovers last year, and earned an honorable mention in the USA Lacrosse Magazine as an All-American as a Blue Jay. She is expected to fortify Virginia’s defense, in tandem with incoming freshman Nicole Cruthirds.
The Cavaliers will play a total of 16 games in the regular season, kicking off with games against Stanford and UC Davis across the country in Palo Alto, Calif. Stanford ought to be a solid measuring stick for Virginia out of the gate. The Cavaliers defeated the Cardinals last year, but All-American sophomore attacker Ashley Humphrey will test their defensive fortitude. UC Davis is the lesser of the two West Coast opponents, and Cruthirds and Meyer should be able to lock down a low-power offensive effort. It will not be easy, but the Cavaliers could return to Charlottesville with a winning record.
Virginia will then open ACC play in their first home game against Louisville Saturday, Feb. 25. The Cardinals went 7-11 last season, winning just one conference match against Virginia Tech, while falling to the Cavaliers by a score of 12-11. While Virginia was only marginally better last year, its additions look more impactful than those of a Louisville program that has spun its wheels in the ACC for some time now. Starting off the conference schedule with a win could pay dividends down the line
The biggest test of the season comes March 11 as the Cavaliers travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. to take on the top preseason seed in North Carolina. Last year, the Tar Heels held Virginia to a paltry seven goals. Schwab and McGovern will need to step up their attacking game in order to keep the Cavaliers in the match.
Of the 16 opponents that Virginia is set to face in the regular season, nine are featured in the top 20 preseason poll, setting the stage for a challenging journey for the Cavaliers. However, if Virginia can stay consistently competitive, utilize its new coaching staff and increase speed on offense and transitions, it’s a strong bet that the Cavaliers will find success this year.