This is it. Without a win on Saturday afternoon, the Virginia Cavaliers are mathematically eliminated from the 2013 NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships. Getting above .500, the baseline for tournament eligibility, will require two more wins in the ACC Tournament as well. But a loss Saturday and the Hoos have nothing left to play for but pride.
For the ten fourth-years who will be honored at Klockner tomorrow, this cannot be how they pictured their careers coming to an end. Seven losses this season are as many as they had their first two seasons (2010 and 2011) combined. They have won a national title, a conference title, and twice played during Memorial Day weekend.
But this group of fourth-years has also faced hardship, albeit little of it having to do with what happens on the field. They endured the tragic loss of Yeardley Love at the hands of their own teammate. They were part of a young team that had to reinvent itself after the dismissal of the highly talented Bratton twins. Compared to what they've been through already, a season of disappointing performances pales in comparison.
Sending those players off with a win in their last game at Klockner won't be easy. Bellarmine (located in Louisville, Kentucky, and Division II in everything but men's lacrosse) is one of the nation's top defensive teams. Dillon Ward has the best save percentage (68.8%) and third-best goals-against average (6.98) in the country. Ward's goals-against number is somewhat helped by Bellarmine's deliberate pace--hey there's a phrase with which U.Va. sports fans are familiar--but the save percentage is pretty much all him.
The Knights' style that has kept them in games against tough opponents: in its three games against current top-12 teams (#1 Denver, #8 Loyola and #12 Ohio State), Bellarmine's three losses were by a total of five goals. Bellarmine is coming off another one-goal loss to Hobart, who went on to upset third-ranked Syracuse.
What points Bellarmine does score come from a well-balanced trio: midfielder Cameron Gardner (24 goals, 3 assists) and attackmen Michael Ward (18g, 8a) and Lance Robinson (16g, 9a). Canadian middie Karsen Leung has been a highly productive distributor off the bench, leading the team with 32 points on the strength of 22 assists.
U.Va's shooters are going to have to bring their very best game to notch goals against Ward. So far this year, they haven't shown an ability to place shots well with any consistency. Working in the Cavaliers' favor is that Bellarmine struggles with face-offs and turnovers. David Herring takes most of the face-offs for Bellarmine but wins less than 44 percent of them. Mick Parks & Co. should be able to keep the Hoos in possession off the draw, and Prevas et al should be able to turn over the Knights on offense.
Virginia is going to have to show a workmanlike, grind-it-out approach, 180 degrees from last week's shootout in Durham. Given what's on the line, there should be plenty of motivation to do whatever it takes.