Time flies when you're having fun. And apparently when you're playing lacrosse. Somehow, the Cavaliers have played fifteen games, spanning three months and about sixty degrees of temperature change (seriously still getting feeling back in my toes from that Loyola game).
After an, umm...less than stellar 2013 season that saw the Hoos miss the playoffs, Virginia rebounded to a 10-5 record and a return to the postseason.
Virginia started strong with six wins to open the season, but lost five of the next nine down the stretch, finishing the regular season exactly where they started the preseason: in the No. 8 spot in the Warrior DI Men's Media Poll.
Last night, the Hoos earned the number eight seed in this year's NCAA tournament, drawing Johns Hopkins as their first round opponent. Virginia leads the NCAA in games against the rest of the field, having played 10 of the 17 teams (with UVa. being number 18, of course). Against those ten, the Hoos hold a 6-5 record (they lost to UNC in the regular season and beat them in the "Saturday Showcase").
While five losses might be more than Virginia fans have grown accustomed to in the past, all five losses were to teams selected to the tournament, and no loss was to a team higher (lower?) than 11 in the national polls. Virginia also holds wins over the number 1, 4, 6, 9, and 14 ranked teams (as of the April 28 rankings).
Fourth year Mark Cockerton has led the way offensively for Virginia this season with 45 goals and 15 assists over 15 games (thanks for the easy math, Mark!). James Pannell has exploded in his second year campaign with 39 goals and seven assists of his own, building off of his injury-hampered first year production of seven goals and five assists.
Midfielder Ryan Tucker found his rhythm this season, firing home 23 goals on 45% shooting, a huge improvement over 2013's 15 goals on 24% shooting. He also is King of the Literal Last Second Shot. No, seriously, it's kind of his thing with two goals registered with :01 on the clock, and another with :02.
Rob Emery has had a quiet season to say the least, but is always a threat to find twine. Head Coach Dom Starsia will need players like Emery and Tucker to step up in the midfield as guys like Cockerton and Pannell will inevitably receive most of the attention in the post season.
Virginia's second midfield has exceeded expectations this spring, with the combo of Tyler German, Zed Williams, Pat Harbeson, and Zach Wood contributing 25 goals and 22 assists.
German (11 goals, 5 assists), has looked extremely comfortable with the ball of late, and notched a couple key goals in the showcase victory over North Carolina that helped the Hoos secure a home game to open the tournament. Williams, a first year, started quietly but has shown much more confidence and skill as the season has progressed. He hit the crossbar so hard against UNC two weekends ago that he literally lifted the goal off the ground. If he can continue playing with more aggression and vision, he could pose a real matchup problem down the stretch.
Defense. Ahhh, the defense. On paper, no one should ever score against Virginia. However, that has not been the case. The defense has looked brilliant in stretches, then completely lost in others. Throughout the season, the Cavaliers have struggled with giving up big runs to the opposing teams, including runs of nine goals (Loyola, Cornell), seven goals (Richmond), six goals (Duke), five goals (Notre Dame), and four goals (Drexel, Maryland).
Now, some of that is a result of ill-timed face off droughts, but some is just bad communication or one-on-one failures. Recently, the defensive unit has been playing much better. The combination of Tanner Scales, Scott McWilliams, and Bobby Hill might be my favorite to watch in recent Virginia history. Throw in the tenacious transfer Joe Lisicky, Chris LaPierre, and red shirt first year Carlson Milikin and you can cause some problems. The combination of McWilliams, Scales, Hill, Lisicky, LaPierre, Blake Riley, and Greg Danseglio have combined for 90 caused turnovers over the course of the season, which is 63% of the team's total.
First year goalie Matt Barrett has had his ups and downs over the course of the season, but appears to be finding his groove in the cage. His four save fourth quarter against North Carolina was clutch, and put up a career high 16 saves twice this season: against Drexel and Johns Hopkins.
The road ahead will be difficult for the Hoos, but the path Virginia has traveled to earn that No.8 seed was no easy trip, either. If Coach Starsia's squad can peak at the right time and put together a full 60 minutes, Virginia fans might have the chance to spend their Memorial Day weekend in the Charm City.