March 22, 2013

UVA, Hopkins Seeking 'Signature Win' at Midpoint of Season

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

"I wouldn't ring the death knell for the team that doesn't win," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said of Saturday's Cavaliers-Blue Jays matchup. "But there certainly is a sense of urgency this week."

Typically, when Johns Hopkins and Virginia do battle in late March, it marks a midseason confrontation between two lacrosse bluebloods beginning to position themselves for anticipated high seeds come NCAA tournament time.

But 2013 is not a typical year so far for either Hopkins or UVA. Saturday's clash between No. 11 Hopkins (5-2) and the 13th-ranked Cavaliers (5-3) at M&T Bank Stadium finds two proud programs a bit staggered.

In one corner are the Blue Jays, the more experienced team. Hopkins has lost to No. 4 Syracuse and No. 10 Princeton by a combined eight goals, and has looked rattled in crunch time while doing it. Hopkins has yet to record a marquee win.

In the other corner is a younger Virginia team, which has done just enough to lose one-goal decisions to Syracuse, No. 2 Cornell and No. 8 Ohio State. The Cavs' best win came in overtime against 17th-ranked Drexel in their season opener.

"There is a lot of lacrosse left to play," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "I wouldn't ring the death knell for the team that doesn't win. But there certainly is a sense of urgency this week. Both teams are in a remarkably similar place. We're both looking for a signature win."

It's nearly unthinkable, late in March, that Hopkins and Virginia already would have a combined five losses, and that neither team is even ranked in the top 10.

"We're close. We've played hard in each of those [losses]. We just couldn't get it done with that one goal," said Starsia, alluding to Virginia's hustle, evidenced by its 40.8 ground balls per game, tops in Division I. "We've got to be a little bit better, a little bit cleaner. I'm talking to myself as much as I'm talking to [the players]."

It will be interesting to see how Virginia sophomore goalie Rhody Heller reacts at M&T against the Blue Jays. Heller is making his third start after replacing freshman Dan Marino, who was benched after allowing 9.1 goals per game and saving 45 percent of the shots he faced.

"Dan and Rhody have given us a chance to win, but you worry about the emotional burden a freshman goalie takes on," Starsia said. "Freshmen see more shots than they've seen their last two years in high school. Dan started to get happy feet in the goal, and we wanted him to step back a little bit. With college athletes, genuine confidence is the most precious commodity."

Quakers look like they're for real

A year ago, the Penn Quakers were a younger team whose confidence was draining away with close loss after close loss. It all bottomed out when the Quakers finished with a 3-10 record.

A year later, Penn (5-1) is engineering what could end up as the best turnaround story in Division I. Last week's 11-10 victory over Princeton dropped the Tigers to No. 10 and marked the Quakers' third win over a ranked opponent. Penn has also toppled 12th-ranked Duke handily and has edged No. 15 Lehigh. Its only blemish came at Denver on the wrong side of a 15-12 shootout.

"We've won high scoring games. We've won low-scoring games," Penn coach Mike Murphy said. "We got 17 saves from Brian Feeney [in a grinding, 6-4 win] at Lehigh. We got unbelievable faceoff play at Villanova [in a 13-9 decision]. We've had really good upper-classmen leadership. And we still have some guys who could kick-start their scoring."

Sophomore attackman Isaac Bock, who has 11 goals on just 26 shots, has been the team's most-improved and consistent scorer.

In the rough-and-tumble Ivy League, it remains to be seen whether Penn can keep this up. But at the midpoint of the regular season, no one is underestimating the Quakers.

Hawkins back for Loyola; Herreweyers impresses

In No. 9 Loyola's 13-8 victory at Georgetown on Wednesday, senior defensive midfield star Josh Hawkins was a huge story, albeit for dubious reasons.

Hawkins finally had his debut after serving a seven-game suspension for violating undisclosed team and athletic department rules. And the best short-stick middie in the game didn't disappoint. He scored a goal, had an assist and tormented the Hoyas with his transition speed and physical brand of stifling D.

But lost somewhat in the Hawkins story was the bolt of energy once again supplied by freshman attackman Zach Herreweyers, a lefty product of The Hill Academy in London, Ontario.

Herreweyers, starting his second straight game in place of the injured Mike Sawyer, was dazzling with four goals. That came on the heels of a hat trick in his first start at Air Force, where the Greyhounds rolled to a 13-7 victory on Saturday.

"Back in the fall, [Herreweyers] came out for his first scrimmage after missing a week of practice with an injury, and he scored seven goals," Loyola junior attackman Justin Ward said. "He didn't even really understand the offense. We kind of knew we had something. When the ball is in his stick, he's electric."


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