Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 11 Virginia (Women)
Four All-Americans graduated from a Virginia women's lacrosse team that fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament and could not sustain the momentum from its unlikely final four run of 2014.
But the Cavaliers believe they will be in the hunt come May, partly because of the way graduated stars like Morgan Stephens, Casey Bocklet, Liza Blue and Courtney Swan reestablished the team as a perennial championship contender.
Virginia at a Glance
2015 Record: 12-7
3 Big Things
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
The Cavaliers were able to widen the gap on other teams more over each of the last five years, a product of a talented class’s maturation. They improved on the draw, in scoring and on defense annually. That margin could shrink sizably this season.
1. The midfield will trigger the offense.
Virginia’s scoring will be more balanced this season. The Cavaliers will rely more on their midfielders to initiate the offense, score and create. Behr and Heick, whom Myers said was the team’s best player in the fall, and Alati are poised to emerge.
“We’ll have much more shared responsibilities,” Myers said. “Our middies will have to contribute offensively and defensively. That’s something we haven’t had to depend on. Our middies have to take it hard. We’d love to get Kelly Boyd free inside, but that happens when you have people willing to take it from the outside.”
2. The draw will make the difference.
Courtney Swan took almost every draw last year, and between her and Liza Blue the Cavaliers must replace 130 draw controls lost to graduation. “Every team is going to be able to make stops,” Myers said. “The ability to get that ball back is going to be the biggest indicator of our success.”
Virginia still has hope even if it can’t win the draw because of how well it can defend. “Our defense is good,” Myers said. “It starts with Sarah, Maggie and Rachel. They’ll be even more solid. The defense will look more organized and even faster. Defensively we’ll be tighter and more versatile. Our middies are good defensive players also. The draw, that is the unknown.”
3. The Cavaliers have growth potential.
It’s easy to focus on what is gone, but Virginia is embracing change. “Sometimes our best years were after our best players left,” Myers said. “It’s a new fresh breath of opportunity. We don’t have that class to rely on. That has served us well when everyone feels responsibility and accountability.”
With so much turnover on attack and roles expanding, there will be growing pains. Myers is confident it will pay off. “We have a lot of athleticism,” she said. “I think we’ll grow and get better. Hopefully we’ll be consistently improving and growing along the way. It should be a good year. I put us in the hunt in the end.”
* returning starters
Behr is a physical gifted player who did a little of everything last year (26g, 5a, 22gb, 11dc, 9ct), and will be asked to do even more, including taking the draw this season. "She's getting better every week at controlling the draw," Myers said. "And she's improved her shot."
Luzik brings speed and grit to the Cavaliers and will help win draws, but it’s on defense that she will be noticed. “She’s a great 1-on-1 defender,” Myers said. “She has good footwork. She uses her upper body and stick well without fouling. She takes chances, but she doesn’t get in trouble. She’s a good helping defender too.”
Her goal production jumped from two as a freshman to 21 last year. Three of those were game-winners, tops on a Virginia team with plenty of scorers. Reese will have more opportunities as a starter this year. “We used her in creative ways,” Myers said. “She’ll be an on-the-field attacker all the time for us.”
Virginia goalie Rachel Vander Kolk started every game as a freshman in 2015 and should benefit from having a backup in 2016. (Cecil Copeland)
Biggest Question Mark
How will the Cavaliers replace almost 63 percent of their point production and nearly 78 percent of their draw control from a year ago, and how quickly can they figure it out?
What rival coaches say about the Cavaliers
"Same boat as Duke. Lost so much. Top 10 recruiting class. Always in the mix in the ACC."
"Graduated lots of goal scorers and key defenders like Morgan Stephens, Courtney Swan, Casey Bocklet and Liza Blue."
"You know you're going to have to compete at a high level against Virginia. It will be interesting to see how they are without (Courtney) Swan and (Liza) Blue, but they've got some new kids and we'll see."
"Young but driven."
"The Cavaliers were an up-and-down team in 2015 and will need to find more consistency this season to compete in the challenging ACC despite losing a number of key starters."
"Drops in the poll based on an impressive graduating class, including five all-region players. Lose three top attackers in Bocklet (first-team All-American), Swan (second-team All-American) and Blue (third-team All-American). Also lost second-team All-American defender Morgan Stephens."
"They graduated some of their leadership, but they always have people ready to emerge as new leaders. They're consistently strong and always competing in the top 10."
"They are still very solid. They will continue to push that transition piece. They have Kasey Behr, and she is a strong physical presence on the attacking end, and she is creating opportunities for herself and her teammates. Things will go through her a little more. The surrounding cast is polished. They play a great team defense and a great goalie. I don't think they will have many holes. They will be solid."
Virginia's ACC finish in 2015, its highest since sharing the regular-season title in 2010. Since then, it’s been a less than spectacular run in the toughest conference in the country. The Cavaliers' 4-3 finish in 2015 marked the only time they were above .500 in the conference in the last five seasons.
23 James Madison
* at Kennesaw, Ga.
March 26 at Duke
The two teams that graduated the most in the ACC take on each other in midseason, by the time most of their question marks should be answered. Virginia has a daunting early schedule with Northwestern, Princeton, Penn State, Syracuse, Loyola, North Carolina and Notre Dame. After Duke, the Cavaliers head on the road for four out of five games in April.
Ashley Morris, a freshman, gives Virginia two goalies on the roster. The Cavaliers used club men’s team goalies to give their shooters a new look at some practices last year simply because the only goalie was Vander Kolk. “Having a counterpart and that competition piece has helped her game this year,” Myers said.
Virginia could struggle out of the gate against a challenging lineup of ranked teams, but when the Cavaliers figure out their roles and find some scoring, they will be dangerous.
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