The No. 10 Virginia women's lacrosse team will open its 2010 campaign this weekend hosting No. 14 Loyola at the University Hall Turf Field. Opening draw is slated for 1 p.m., with live statistics available on VirginiaSports.com. Virginia dominates the all-time series between the two programs, 21-6-1. The Cavaliers won last season's match-up in Baltimore, Md., 19-8, and hold a record of 10-2-1 against the Greyhounds in Charlottesville.
Loyola opened its season on Sunday at Penn State, dropping a close 9-8 contest to the No. 18 Nittany Lions in Holuba Hall. Grace Gavin led the Greyhounds with a hat trick, while Kerry Stoothoff stopped 10 shots for Loyola.
Coming off a 2009 campaign in which UVa finished with an overtime loss to conference-foe Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the Cavaliers will look to the nation's second-ranked recruiting class to help fill the void of five key starters from last year.
Virginia will have a new look during the 2010 season, including a revamped offense and some new talent stepping up to lead the program back to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Virginia's midfield unit is the most experienced group on the field. The Cavaliers will turn to senior All-Americans Kaitlin Duff and Brittany Kalkstein, in addition to sophomore Julie Gardner, to bridge the gap between the attack and defense, by providing a quick and swift transition as they add stability and a punch to both ends.
"Our midfielders are excellent," head coach Julie Myers said. "They bring out the best in each other as they look to take over in transition and solidify both ends of the field."
Duff enters the year as the teams top returning scorer, notching 34 goals and 18 assists. The speedy lefty has also been among the team leaders in caused turnovers and groundballs throughout her three seasons on Grounds, while Gardner and Kalkstein have been an integral force in jumpstarting Virginia's offense. In addition, Kalkstein has become one of the most dominant players in the nation in draw controls, winning 73 in 2009 to set a single season program record in the category at UVa.
Newcomers Caroline McTiernan and Anne Thomas will both be valuable additions to the midfield unit, as well. Not only will they provide rest for the midfielders, they'll also blend the Cavaliers' speed and athleticism all over the field.
"Our midfielders are the backbone to our team," Myers said. "They're all great defenders who have the ability to disrupt our opponent's attack. They are also integral attackers in both our transition and set attack games."
Following the graduation of three All-American attackers, the Cavaliers' offense is going to have new threats this year.
"Although our attack is young in terms of game experience, we believe that we have the right players who are ready and excited to step up this year," Myers said. "Our depth, stick work and quickness give us many ways to go to goal. We have a lot of combinations of attackers we can rotate through in each game. Every attacker plays an important role in our set attack."
Returning to the lineup will be sophomore Josie Owen, who will be a huge key to making Virginia's offense run.
"Josie is a versatile attacker who can play both behind and in front of the cage," Myers said. "Josie can set things up but she can also finish."
Finishing her freshman campaign with six goals and 10 assists, Owen will be relied on to control the offensive end. Redshirt sophomore Ainsley Baker and newcomer Charlie Finnigan - a member of Team England at the 2009 World Cup - will also be looked at to help create an atmosphere in which the Cavaliers can play settled but have the option for fast break opportunities.
The Cavaliers also possess offensive weapons in 6-1 redshirt senior Whitaker Hagerman, seniors Caity Whiteley and Marye Kellermann, junior Molly Millard and freshmen Kelly Austin and Erin Laschinger.
"All of our attackers have the ability to score," Myers said. "They all have great power and soft hands which has allowed us to create offensive sets around each of their strengths. When we play within our system, we get a lot of great looks and scoring opportunities."
At the opposite end of the field, the Cavaliers will look to junior Liz Downs to provide stability to another quick, deep and athletic unit. Downs, starting every game throughout her career, returns as the most experienced defender for Virginia and will be expected to be the backbone of the group.
"Liz is our leader on defense," Myers said. "She is a great communicator, she sees slides well and she is a stingy one-on-one defender."
Due to the graduation of two starting defenders, the Cavaliers will expect senior Yeardley Love, junior Marghi Walters and sophomores Bailey Fogarty and Annie Taylor to step up and fill the spots around Downs.
Love gained a wealth of experience playing a mix of midfield and defense last season, while Taylor stepped into the starting lineup midway through the year and proved to be a reliable defender. Fogarty is quick and provides Virginia an ability to break up passes and spark transition, while Walters also possesses an ability to disrupt opponents' strategies. Junior Molly McClintic and newcomers Claire Banta and Megan Dunleavy will round out the defensive group.
"We have a lot of solid defenders that we can rotate into four spots," Myers said. "We plan to use our depth in a fast paced, high pressure defense that looks to get our fast break started."
Virginia's ability to make saves and create turnovers will be crucial in its defensive success. The Cavaliers welcome newcomer Kim Kolarik to the cage, alongside redshirt junior Lauren Benner. With the duo vying for time between the pipes, the Cavaliers will have a reliable backstop to round out what looks to be a quick and stingy defense.
Following Saturday's season opener, the Cavaliers will remain home to host both Richmond and Syracuse next week. The Spiders will travel to Charlottesville on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. contest, before the Orange head to town on Saturday, Feb. 27 for a noon match-up.