Virginia Lacrosse Season Preview: Defense

Scott McWilliams anchors a tough Virginia defense. - Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Virginia's 2014 season opens next week against Loyola (Md.), meaning we are up to part three of Streaking the Lawn's four part series previewing each specific unit. Up next...defense.

One week from today, the Virginia Men's Lacrosse team will take the field to face off against the Greyhounds of Loyola Maryland, who are ranked no. 16 in Warrior's DI Men's Media Poll. So far, we have recapped the attack and midfield, so it is time to focus on the defensive unit for the Wahoos.

Virginia's defense returns just about everybody. Seriously. The Hoos only graduated Harry Prevas from the starting defensive unit, losing his 47 ground balls and 19 caused turnovers as well. Short stick defensive middies Blake Riley and Chris "Shocker" LaPierre should have completed their senior seasons last year, but return for one last year of eligibility thanks to the beauty of medical waivers.

As a whole, Virginia gave up 158 goals for an average of 10.53 per game and good for 35th place in the NCAA (tied with Colgate). The Wahoos grabbed the seventh spot nationally (and first in the ACC) in caused turnovers per game with an average of 9.20 a game.

One big issue to solve as a unit for this season has to be giving up late goals. Against Ohio State alone (which UVA lost 11-10), the Cavaliers gave up goals to the Buckeyes with :01, :12, and :04 seconds left in the first three quarters respectively. Against Cornell, the Big Red's game winner came with 13 seconds left.  Playing in a conference as tough as the ACC is going to be this season, the Hoos have to figure out how to close out the quarter. Maybe Tony Bennett can help (#packline).

The depth of the 2014 defense rivals that of the 2003 which boasted Mike Culver, Brett Hughes, Trey Whitty, and JJ Morrissey. Goalie play is still to be determined (look for that piece next week), but the players providing protection in front of the crease are unbelievably athletic and should give opposing offenses fits week in and week out.

Here's a look at the defense:

Tanner Scales

Get on board with this kid. The reigning ACC Freshman of the Year, Scales plays with the physicality of Culver and the quick foot and stickwork of Brett Hughes.  He plays well beyond his age, and can be trusted to mark even the most dangerous of attackmen.  Tanner was second on the team in caused turnovers with 25, and added 33 ground balls to boot.

Off the field, Tanner spent time with Fields of Growth International in Uganda, a program that "...aims to harness the passion of the lacrosse community into positive social impact through global leadership development, service and growing the game." His participation in the program is commendable and shows his dedication in not only sharing the game he loves, but helping out others in the process.

Greg Danseglio

Danseglio was a jack of all trades for Virginia last season playing close defense, long stick midfielder (LSM), and contributing five points (2 goals, 3 assists). Greg will fill the third close defender spot with Scales and Scott McWilliams, and look for him to build off of his 35 ground balls and eight caused turnovers from 2013.

Danseglio was also a member of the 2012 USA U-19 gold medal winning squad, as well as an All-ACC Academic Team member.

Scott McWilliams

One of Virginia's elected team captains, McWilliams also split time between LSM and close defense. A second-team All-American and All-ACC player, Scott is a clamp-down defender with incredible footwork and strong physical presence.  At 6'3", 205, he plays aggressively around the crease and competently directs the defense. His on field play and leadership will be essential for the Cavaliers in order to help alleviate the inexperience in the goal.

McWilliams, who started every game as a first year in the 2011 National Championship campaign, averaged 2.40 caused turnovers per game in 2013 (4th in the NCAA). Like Danseglio, McWilliams contributed five points last season, via one goal and four assists. His field vision is impressive, and Scott is poised for a big senior season.

Chris LaPierre

Good news, everyone. We have one more year of Shocker.  When LaPierre went down with a 'lower extremity' injury in fall ball last season, the hope was that he would be at full strength by the time the tougher non-conference schedule ended.  It was very evident, however, that he was not remotely close to being the spark plug the Wahoos had been accustomed to. After three games, Head Coach Dom Starsia shut down Shocker and the road to the medical hardship waiver was paved.

With the number of close games last season (three games by one goal, one by two goals), one cannot help but wonder what having 'the Human Clear' could have accomplished in Virginia's topsy turvy year.  In 2012, LaPierre was selected to the All-ACC team and second team All-America. This preseason, Shocker was listed on Inside Lacrosse's Faceoff Yearbook's Honorable Mention All-American preseason team, which is surprisingly low.  Given that he has made a full recovery, LaPierre should make an immediate impact on both sides of the field. His 63 ground balls in 2012 led the team, and those 50/50 plays will be crucial down the stretch in the tough ACC.

Carlson Milikin

I'm excited to see Milikin play. He had a solid fall ball last season, but ended up red-shirting after playing in one game (against Mt. St. Mary's) due to injury. He's a big, strong kid (6'1", 185 pounds) and will be a great complement for Shocker.  Most likely you'll see LaPierre and Milikin split up and matched with Hill/Riley/Harbeson, but Carlson's speed and build (also an all-state defensive back in football at Woodberry Forest) will be a huge asset for new defensive coach Joe Starsia.

Oh, and he is a first teamer on Inside Lacrosse's All-Name team. I still think Wellington Stanwick takes it though...

Bobby Hill/Blake Riley/Pat Harbeson

This trio will cause a lot of problems for Virginia's opponents. Hill, the third captain (with McWilliams and Emery) is like a bulldog on the field. Despite his smaller stature, he hounds opposing players and rarely gets beaten for position.

Blake Riley will always stand out in my mind for the epic takeaway against Bucknell in the NCAA first round game in 2011 that led to the Virginia victory and eventual national championship. He is great off the ground and has become more of a transitional midfielder over the past season.

Harbeson has been mostly a defensive midfielder in years past, but his role could be evolving. Pat played significantly more time on the offensive midfield in fall ball, so do not be surprised if he remains on the field after the clear.

Check back next week for part four of our previews that will look at the goalies and specialists, to include long stick middies and face-off-get-off guys.

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