History will be made today at the 2011 NCAA Men's Lacrosse National Championship Game between the 7th-seeded Virginia Cavaliers and the unseeded Maryland Terrapins, as no team seeded lower than 5 has ever claimed the national title. This is the first trip to the finals for the Hoos since 2006, when Virginia finished with a perfect 17-0 record and the hardware to prove it.
Today is also the ninth program appearance in the championship game - the Cavaliers have won four of the previous eight appearances, including the last three straight (2006, 2003, 1999). Each of the Cavaliers' four championship game losses has been decided with a golden goal in at least one overtime period.
"In some ways, it's so unlikely that we're here today," coach Dom Starsia said, reflecting on the up-and-down season so far. "The fact that we're in the final weekend for the fourth year in a row, this feels vastly different than the previous couple of years. I'm really proud of these guys, and it's been quite a journey to get here. So we're just really grateful that we have this opportunity, and we look forward to playing this thing. I'm closer to the end of my career rather than the beginning, but this is still very special."
Just as Duke is Virginia Lacrosse's kryptonite, UVa has been Maryland's Achilles' Heel of recent history. Though the Terrapins hold a slight 45-41 series advantage over Virginia, the Hoos have won nine of the past 11 meetings between the two, and will be hoping to make that 10 of 12 today.
As mentioned earlier this morning, junior midfielder Colin Briggs, who is third on the team in points, will be activated for this afternoon's game. After Saturday's rout of Denver, Briggs' fresh legs, combined with the relatively rested legs of ACC Player of the Year and Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Steele Stanwick's, should prove to be at least somewhat advantageous to the Hoos rather than the Terps, who had the arguably more taxing task of defeating Duke in the semifinals.
One key to this game is controlling the faceoff. At one point on Saturday, Denver won three straight face-offs and converted it to three goals in under 40 seconds. Remind anyone of a certain basketball game? While ultimately the Hoos were able to control the face-off game 13-11, they will have to be more diligent against a Terps team ranked 7th in the country going into Saturday's games, averaging a face-off win percentage of 61.3%, as compared to Virginia's 49.8%, ranked 31st in the country.
The Terps' scoring defense is among the stingiest in the country, giving up only 7.06 goals per game, fourth in the country. Running point for the Cavaliers is of course Stanwick, who has 20 points so far this tournament (6.67 points per game). Virginia has proven that they can score from pretty much anyone and anywhere on the field with Stanwick, Bocklet, Briggs, White, Cockerton, Emery, and a whole slew of others.
The Virginia defense, on the other hand, has shown a couple holes in it this season that can be exploited. The Hoos are ranked in the bottom half of the country at 38, giving up an average of 9.88 goals a game. This young defense faces the 12th best scoring offense in the country behind Ryan Young, the senior attackman who has 19 goals, 28 assists and 47 points to his name, and Grant Catalino, the senior attackman with 29 goals, 10 assists and 39 points to his name.
The bottom line. On paper, the Virginia offense is simply better than Maryland's offense. On the flip side, Maryland's is the stronger of the two defenses. Both teams are competing at a national champions-caliber level right now. Maryland has had the benefit of consistency - not just in terms of wins, but in terms of personnel. Virginia at one point lost four of five, but you wouldn't know that based on how they've been playing this month. The Cavaliers have also had all sorts of turmoil when it comes to player suspensions, dismissals and injuries.
Buckle up, folks. It's an old rivalry with new meaning as these two ACC squads duke it out for a national championship today at 3:30 in Baltimore on ESPN.