If you're talking Virginia lacrosse under Dom Starsia, the conversation starts with defense. The names of the all-time greats during Starsia's tenure is longer than a CVS receipt: Ryan Curtis. Mark Koontz. Brett Hughes. Ken Clausen. Year in and year out, Virginia has been able to rely on long-poles who were bigger, stronger, and more athletic than any team in the country.
The 2015 squad may be big, they may be strong, and they may be athletic. But the only thing we know about them for certain is that they won't be experienced.
The same three close defenders started every game for Virginia in 2014: Scott McWilliams, Greg Danseglio, and Tanner Scales. None of them will play a minute for Virginia in 2015. McWilliams is gone to graduation and a career with the MLL's Boston Cannons. Greg Danseglio has transferred to Maryland (ewww). And during the Hoos preseason scrimmage against Navy, All-American Tanner Scales injured his Achilles tendon and is done for the year.
So who's left for the Hoos? They break down into three groups: the Possible Converts, the No-Names, and the Rookies.
The Possible Converts
If Starsia wants experience in his defense, he's going to have to get somebody to change positions. The leading candidate here would be Tanner Ottenbreit. Ottenbreit played in all 16 games last year as a long-stick middie, and played in 15 games the year before. At 6'1, 185, he's a bit small for the traditional Starsia-mold defender, but he at least has game experience. Another possibility would be Nate Menninger. Menninger was the second option at LSM in 2014, and also took faceoffs. Working in his favor is the fact that he's bigger than Ottenbreit by about 35 pounds, and moving him doesn't disrupt as many other pieces. Redshirt sophomore Michael Howard, who played in only 3 games in 2014, could also be a conversion candidate, but it seems unlikely that two LSMs would make the switch. The smart money would be on Menninger if any of them do.
The group name here means no disrespect to any of these guys. College athletics is full of zero-to-hero stories: guys who were too small or too slow or just plain overlooked when they were young, but who grew into major contributors on successful teams. Hopefully Michael Rhoads (one appearance in 2014), Alec Webster (one) or Davi Sacco (six, and a former walk-on) can be that guy. Thompson Brown would be another possibility: Brown split time between football and lacrosse before missing all of 2014 with an injury. Now that he's down to focusing on just lacrosse, here's hoping he's a Patrick Kerney in disguise.
We'll have much more on the freshman class on Thursday when we break down the rookies together. But the odds are very strong that someone from this group ends up seeing significant playing time—perhaps even two will start. The leading candidates are Scott Hooper and Logan Greco. Hooper was ranked 14th on Inside Lacrosse's Power 100 Freshman Rankings; Greco was 31st. Both stand an even 6'0 and weigh in around 200 pounds. Both were four-year double athletes in high school (hockey for Hooper, football for Greco), a trait that Starsia has historically prized in his defense recruits. Cooper Fersen and Chase Campbell were also top-100 recruits (89th and 98th, respectively) and will have a shot to earn their spot on the field.
The state of the 2015 Virginia defense represents both the beauty and the agony of college sports. In the blink of an eye, an entire unit is gone from one year to the next. But waiting in the wings are younger players ready for their moment. They'll have plenty of chances to seize that moment this season.