Near-perfect postseason execution by Virginia has surprised a lot of folks in the past couple weeks. A Championship Game appearance, though expected before the season began, seemed but a distant dream for a Cavaliers squad that at one point this season lost four out of five games. Still, a constantly evolving team that's had to overcome all sorts of adversity this year, the Hoos will face Maryland in the all ACC 2011 NCAA Men's Lacrosse championship game, after the Terps downed Duke 9-4 in the second semifinal game.
In the only meeting between the two squads earlier this year, Maryland had defeated the Cavaliers 12-7, using a barrage of second-half scoring to come back from a 5-4 halftime deficit.
But that was a different Virginia team.
It was one that included senior midfielder Rhamel Bratton. It was one that was undergoing internal turmoil, as twin brother midfielder Shamel Bratton had just been suspended for his second game of the season, and the Cavaliers were trying to find a way to get points without him.
But today, it looks like a whole different team. Bratton who? They may have been the two top recruits of the Class of 2007 four years ago, but throughout the past three weeks, the Cavaliers have played as though they've anticipated this moment from the beginning. And they only have to get through one more game to complete the dramatic rollercoaster season.
The phrase that's been thrown around a lot this tournament is "addition by subtraction." To say that the Brattons did not have a major impact on this team would be a farce.
Shamel, who was dismissed from the team on April 29 for undisclosed violations of team standards, finished his career at Virginia with 89 goals and 40 assists for 129 points, etched his name in the Virginia annals as 3rd, 5th and 1st among UVa middies in each of the respective categories.
Rhamel, who remains indefinitely suspended and will not play in Monday's championship game, according to coach Dom Starsia, will finish his career with 59 goals, good for 14th all-time among UVa middies.
I don't know if you can count it as addition by subtraction, but the Hoos have certainly found a way to get points on the board. It's a system that generally starts with the last Tewaaraton Trophy finalist standing, junior attackman Steele Stanwick. Stanwick already has 20 points this season, putting him second in UVa history for NCAA postseason points, and just five off from the NCAA record of 25. Sophomore attackmanand freshman middie Rob Emery both have appeared to step their games up in the postseason, providing plenty of offensive firepower. In yesterday's matchup, sophomore attackman Matt Cockerton had a hat trick and an assist. In the last game against Maryland, none of these guys were able to find the back of the net.
If Maryland wins tomorrow, they will become the first unseeded team to bring home the hardware, and also the first team to do so without any first-team All-Americans. Virginia also has a chance at becoming the lowest seed to win the title, currently held by a 5th seed.
It's hard to take too much from the season's earlier meeting between these two ACC powerhouses (a conference in which every member team can call themselves a powerhouse, really). The reality is that all bets are off when the two face off at 3:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon in M&T Bank Stadium. Both teams want this badly. The Terrapins have not won the title since 1975 and are playing sharp lacrosse. The Hoos have a lot of people to prove wrong, after they wrote the Cavs off midseason.
Either way, Monday promises to be a great contest between 7th-seeded Virginia and unseeded Maryland.